An Empathy Revolution

Written by Founder and CEO, Sara Potler LaHayne

There are mornings when we awake devastated. Wednesday was one for me. I felt dispirited and disheartened. I awoke to a barrage of messages from friends, asking me what my “plan for change” was, and for tips in how to handle the stress and conflict at work that day. One friend from college wrote “I want you to know that whatever you need, I’m all in!” Another sent a validating text acknowledging the tireless change and beauty we are working to bring to the world.

During a time of confusion and chaos, these morning messages, both asking for help and looking for a plan forward, were comforting. The sense of purpose and action in them gave me hope. When I think about any time that there’s been progress, new solutions to old problems, or the birth of ideas and ways of thinking, it always comes in the aftermath of failure, pain, and struggle. No one asks for hardship. We all want everything to work out, but when it smacks us against the face, the question that tells all is: how will we respond? How will we move through the pain and suffering, and emerge stronger as a result?

One of my “10 Takeaways from Going Off the Grid” was that to embody resilience, we must embrace suffering. We as a country are suffering. No matter which side you are on politically, the evidence is clear all over this great country. We are in pain. But we cannot sit in this pain for long. Days have passed and tears have been shed. When we are ready, we must collectively embrace this challenge as an opportunity for learning and growth. Because wisdom comes from living hardship and from moving through diverse and difficult experiences. We must lean on these emotions and use them as the fuel we need to inspire action.

When we operate from a place of fear or dread, we are prone to make short-sighted decisions and ineffectively manage emotions and stress. With confusion all around us and upsetting questions consuming our hearts and minds, we need to cultivate practices of mindfulness and compassion that will allow us to move through the fear to a place of positive resolution. In order to awaken a state wherein we can create and heal, we must open ourselves to the perspectives, belief systems, and concerns of those whom are not in our orbits. We must literally put ourselves in the shoes of those who are different than us so that we can be in a place where healing, creativity and love can flourish.

I’m in Washington this week, visiting Move This World partners, and when I see the young, beautiful faces of diverse children learning how to healthily express and manage their emotions, it gives me hope for a future when we can actively work with those we don’t understand for the sake of our children. I watch these students here in D.C., students who have experienced trauma and stress in their young lives, and I admire their resilience in the face of what life has thrown at them.

Today we must ask those we know the least how they feel, put ourselves in their shoes, and attempt to understand their experience. We will welcome this tumultuous suffering as an opportunity for something beautiful to be born. I invite you to join me in your commitment to the empathy revolution.

“I know the world is bruised and bleeding, and though it is important not to ignore its pain, it is also critical to refuse to succumb to its malevolence. Like failure, chaos contains information that can lead to knowledge—even wisdom.

This is precisely the time when artists go to work. There is no time for despair, no place for self-pity, no need for silence, no room for fear. We speak, we write, we do language. That is how civilizations heal.”

– Toni Morrison


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