Note: One of my favorite parts of Urban Empathy is the introduction where I discuss super heroes, NYC and nonviolence. In honor of the book now being out more than 10 years, I’ve decided to blog some excerpts from the book. Today is Part Three. Read Part One here and Part Two here.
I seek to live with connection and compassion (in each moment that I can) because it feels good; it gives me empowerment and choice. It helps me be in the moment; my body likes it. When acting out of compassion, I also, at moments, am connected to a larger, ideological vision. I personally believe that if each of us experienced empathy from birth and knew people in our lives who could deeply listen (without judgment or blame) that the world would be a very different place.
In Siddhartha, by Hermann Hesse, we hear about what this quality of listening is like and how it enriches us:
Of the ferryman’s virtues, this was one of his greatest: He knew how to listen as few people do. Though Vasudeva spoke not a word himself, the speaker felt him, receiving his words into himself, quietly, openly, unhurriedly, missing nothing, not jumping ahead through impatience, attributing neither praise nor blame–just listening. Siddhartha felt what happiness can come from opening oneself to such a listener, having one’s own life — one’s seeking, one’s suffering-enter this other’s heart.*
I believe that if we could reach a critical mass or tipping point, where, perhaps, even one percent of the population knew how to listen in this way, there would be a level of harmony, contentment, and healing that the world has never seen before. And this peace would not be superficial or temporary, nor a peace out of submission. It would be the kind of genuine peace that comes from each person knowing they have a place in the world and that their needs matter.
For me, increasing the world’s capacity for compassion is the most simple and immediate way to “think globally and act locally” and for us all to enjoy a sustainable future. Some might say that Urban Empathy has nothing to do with superheroes(just because it’s a cartoon book set in New York doesn’t mean there’s a connection with Superman). Ultimately, I agree. Urban Empathy is the very opposite of the superhero genre, stepping outside good and evil and using a different kind of force and power (than physical might) to create change. From the age of ten, all I ever wanted was to be one of the Jedi from Star Wars (the superhero for my generation). Through practicing nonviolence, I have come the closest to approaching the empowerment that attracted me to the heroic deeds of Luke Skywalker — and all without ever carrying a light saber or leaving New York for galaxies far, far away.
*Hesse, Herman. Siddhartha (Boston and London: Shambhala Press, 2000), translated by Sherab Chodzin Koho.