As the election season ends and we look to make peace within our families and communities, remember that the peace and justice we want to see in the world starts with our abilities to see what another sees, to feel what another feels, and to allow our hearts to be broken.
Very soon this election will be over. Yet the acrimony and the deep divides among us that the political process has exposed will not simply fade. The divisions between us need to be healed actively and intentionally. How do we begin?
Prominent behavioral psychologist Steven Hayes recently wrote about the three essential psychological skills that research shows are needed to be able to enjoy and love others. First, we need to be able to take another’s perspective. We need to be able to put ourselves in another’s shoes and see the world through her eyes, understanding how her perspective might be different from our own. Second, we need to be able to feel what the other person is feeling – to feel his joys and sorrows. And third, we need to be open enough to our own emotional experience to not shut ourselves off from the other person’s pain, even when it is hard. When we can see another’s perspective, and feel what they feel, it can be painful for us, especially if they are different from us. If we try to protect ourselves from those uncomfortable feelings, we shut down our ability to be truly compassionate. Loving those who are different from us is hard and, sometimes, heartbreaking. Glennon Melton, author of Love Warrior, says this about opening ourselves to the pain of others: “Do not run, do not turn away: follow your heartbreak…Everything beautiful starts with a broken heart.”
These, then, are the essential ingredients to loving others: perspective taking, empathy, and openness to experience. Research in psychology tells us that the opposite is also true: when we are lacking in these three skills, the result is that we judge, objectify, and dehumanize others. The good news is, we can strengthen these skills with intentional practice.
Hayes concludes with this: “The modern world needs to take seriously the battle between hate and love. If it is to be love, we need to go behind the eyes of, say, women being groped … and then we need to take a deep breath and take the much harder journey into the mind of a groper. We need to go behind the eyes of a Mexican child on a school bus being shouted at to go home … and then pause and feel what it feels like to be the middle-aged man shrieking at him or her.”
by Amy House for Love Not Fear Movement