Empathy has been on my mind for quite a few years now, and as more and more tragedy surfaces throughout the world, the idea of empathy only weighs heavier and heavier on my mind. The world needs more empathy, desperately. More empathy equals less hatred. Less hatred equals more love. More love equals less war. It seems like such a simple concept to me, and yet so far out of reach. So how do we increase empathy in the world? I believe it starts with the individual, and for those of us who have children, that change within the individual impresses upon them as well.
As I sit here going through some pictures from my recent trip back to Thailand and seeing the faces of all my friends who came from all over the world to train at Phuket Top Team as well, the solution to increasing empathy in our communities on a worldwide level seems to be right in front of my face. Travel. Travel to as many places as you can and do so in such a way that you can experience the culture, instead of only seeing the side of the country that was specifically designed and altered to attract tourism.
My experiences training at Phuket Top Team have been invaluable in exposing me to a variety of cultures because of how many different people come from all over the world to train there. On any given day numerous cultures are represented on the training floor. At every team gathering, a myriad of culture is brought to the occasion. Over the course of my travels I have made wonderful friends with people not just from Thailand, but from Australia, Scotland, England, Singapore, Sweden, Canada, Ireland and more, and what I love about that is the amount of culture I have been exposed to as a result while simply speaking and laughing with them. Even something as simple as differences in slang serve as a reminder of empathy, for one definition of empathy is the capacity to understand or feel what another person is experiencing from within the other being's frame of reference.
I remember sitting around with some friends after training one night on my first trip to Thailand, and the Australians were talking about their excessive use of a certain four letter word that Americans simply do not use (hint hint.. it begins with a "c" and most American women would tear your head off for referring to them as such). They were laughing at my reaction every time they used the word (apparently my eyes involuntarily widened a little bit with each use). I explained how taboo and insulting that word is in America, and they went on to explain that while there is a certain use of the word that is the highest insult in Australia as well, there are also two other uses of the word that are instead the highest compliment. I know this might sound strange to link a mini-lesson on the various uses of this particular word with empathy, but it was interesting to witness my shock over the word compared to their ease, as it was caused by a simple difference in paradigms.
Even by simply acknowledging the existence of differing paradigms throughout the world, even within our own neighborhoods, we are practicing and increasing empathy. Now, imagine traveling somewhere and witnessing the way families interact, how children are raised, how diets differ or even how meal time rituals differ. When you immerse yourself in the culture of a place and pay attention to the little details throughout the day, your eyes are opened to an entire different way of living and experiencing the world around you in such a way you might never have thought of for the simple reason that it was outside your paradigm.
I remember sitting down to lunch with my friend on my most recent trip. He is Thai so I began having him order my food for me when we went out, not because I'm one of those women who can't make decisions for herself, but because I wanted to experience the country, including the food, through a Thai's eyes. I knew if I ordered for myself, I would naturally gravitate toward what looked familiar. So we were each sitting there eating our matching dishes, which included shrimp, and I watched him spoon the shrimp up and place the whole thing in his mouth -- including the tail! He smiled at me and nodded at my spoon which also had a shrimp waiting on it. "You try." He said. I looked at the shrimp and realized my hesitation wasn't because it sounded gross or anything, but simply because I never knew you could even eat the tail! It was completely outside of my paradigm! So, I shrugged my shoulders, opened my mouth and ate the entire shrimp, tail and all, and while I had to chew it a little longer than I am used to, I haven't removed the tail from shrimp before eating them since.
I know these are small and possibly silly sounding things to stick out in my mind when considering empathy, but they really did have a big impact on me in terms of opening my eyes and making me reflect on how much of the world we view through the closed in tunnel of our paradigms. I've always wanted to travel with my children, but that desire is even stronger now that I have begun having these reflections. My youngest son and I will be going to Thailand together next summer and it is all we can talk about lately. He is fascinated by the stories I bring home, including the small stories about eating the tail off the shrimp. Hearing about how other people do things excites and fascinates him and watching that fascination in his eyes causes me to reflect on empathy and the relevance of travel in connection to empathy even more. It is not always easy to travel, but in my experience traveling to certain countries (such as Thailand) is cheaper than an extended weekend vacation in most U.S. cities. It takes some planning, sure, but it can absolutely be done. Just imagine the gift you'll be giving yourself, your children (if you have them), and as a result the world if you begin insisting on seeing more of this beautiful, culture rich world we live in.
A lover of words, magic, and the idea of changing the world by encouraging the pursuit of one dream at a time. Living the dream myself as a professional boxer, kickboxer, and MMA fighter.