Caution! Caring people ahead

imagesA posse of foreign journalists was travelling with the Dalai Lama as he visited poverty-stricken village after village.

In every village the locals would come out and present the Dalai Lama with gifts: a handful of rice, an old book – whatever they had.

One of the journalists became angrier and angrier as he saw people who had practically nothing gifting what little they had and the Dalai Lama graciously accepting every offering.

In the final village of the tour, an old lady who lived under a tree was in tears because she had nothing to give the Dalai Lama except the clothes she was wearing. Then she started digging furiously at the foot of the tree and carefully unearthed an old, fraying, dirt-ridden dress; her wedding dress from many years ago.

With tears still pouring down her wizened cheeks, she presented this to the Dalai Lama. He gracefully clasped his hands together and bowed humbly while accepting this gift.

The final straw

This was the final straw for the journalist. He exploded with rage and challenged the Dalai Lama: “Why on earth would you take a wedding dress from this poor lady?”

The Dalai Lama replied: “I accept the dress and the gifts not because I need them, but because my people need to give them.”

The Dalai Lama had demonstrated his mastery of empathy. He cared for his people; connected with them and understood they wanted to experience the dignity of giving him a gift. But most of all, he had the courage to act, even if it felt counterintuitive.

American marketer Seth Godin, in a recent blog post on empathy, said: “Dismissing actions we don’t admire merely because we don’t care enough to have empathy is rarely going to help us make the change we seek. It doesn’t help us understand, and it creates a gulf that drives us apart.”

Every day we have that same choice: we can assume we’re doing the right thing and create gulfs; or really get inside the hearts of the people we’re relating to, and build bridges with empathic words and actions.

Please comment – I love hearing from you.

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