An empathy tour?

 

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I am lit up about a new idea, and I want to share it with you!

I am dreaming up an “empathy tour.”

Empathy has been on my mind a lot lately.  As I have been stepping back a bit and re-envisioning what my Dream Into Change practice might look like from a client’s perspective, I have been focusing more on my Happy to Listen practice.  I really love that work, holding sacred space for people who choose to live consciously to express whatever challenges, triumphs, or explorations are alive for them at any given time.

At the same time that I have been focusing on empathy professionally, I have also been pondering how incredibly important it is for all people, and indeed for healthy communities and our human family on a large scale.  People today are so busy and overwhelmed with life that they have very little time and attention to offer one another.  Of course, this means that they/we are also very limited in the time and attention we are able to receive from one another. People don’t get a chance to express their thoughts and feelings and be truly heard. And this only serves to compound our stress and overwhelm.  On a larger, community scale, it degrades our human bonds.

So I feel inspired to do what I can to address this, on a personal scale.  Several times over the last few weeks, I have taken to the streets of Portland with a sign – modeled after the “free hugs” signs that started popping up a few years ago – that reads, “Need to talk? Free empathy :-)”  I station myself in a pedestrian-heavy spot, and simply sit, for about an hour and a half, offering my ear to those who would like to talk.

It has been deeply rewarding.

People from all walks of life have taken me up on it.  They have talked about all kinds of things, from the concept of empathy itself to actual, often painful, issues in their own lives.  People have cried. People have thanked me for listening.  Many people who have not stopped to talk have given me thumbs-up, shared smiles and words of support and encouragement, and/or photographed me.  Many people have walked by, looked at the sign, and smiled to themselves as they walked on. One person stopped to talk for awhile, then sketched me.  One person, clearly affected by simply seeing me with my sign, said, “Thank you for being here – on behalf of all humanity!”

I think I’ve struck a chord.

So now, I want to take it to the next level.  I want to travel to more cities, listen to more people, and spread the word about empathy.  Perhaps network with local groups – such as NVC practice groups – to set up local empathy circles.  Perhaps offer empathy flash-mobs.  Perhaps hand out fliers with simple instructions on how to listen more deeply and effectively to nourish friends, family, and strangers alike.

You know… start an empathy movement!

And, since I’m dreaming into my own change here – wanting to follow my own bliss while contributing to the greater good – I want to do it in a way that is extra fun and nourishing to me.  This means two things: 1) incorporating train travel, and 2) traveling to places where I can not only connect with strangers, but also spend time strengthening my connections with my own family.  Many of them live on the East Coast.  So, I’m thinking I could fly to Raleigh/Durham, spend a few days there, then take the train to the DC area (how awesome would it be to offer empathy to folks on the steps of the US Capitol?), then get back on the train to New York (which I have always wanted to visit and never have), and finally head up to Boston.  Then fly back to Portland. Empathy everywhere I go.  Enjoying train travel. Connecting with parents, aunt & uncle, cousin, and various friends. Doing some vegan culinary tourism. Blogging about it all… and, if all goes well, beginning to build an empathy movement.

I’m imagining a crowdfunding campaign to cover travel expenses and other costs.

So… what do you think? Do you think this is something the world needs?  Do you have ideas, or contacts in any of those cities?  Would you contribute to a crowdfunding campaign for this tour?  Would you spread the word to your friends and social networks?

I’m a little scared… and very excited!

This entry was posted in Nonviolent Communication, Travel and tagged , . Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to An empathy tour?

  1. Eric Schneider says:

    Brilliant idea, Maren. Sounds like you’ve raised the bar on your life’s work. Have you read the late Taylor Caldwell’s novel “The Listener?” As a former Rebirther, est staff member, and now a Introduction Leader for Landmark Education and Teacher of (nonsectarian) Forgiveness, I’ve been practicing listening powerfully to people for some years. On of Landmark’s distinctions is that we can listen for what the person is saying, what they’re not saying, and what they’re committed to in saying it.
    Also, my spiritual Guide – Thich Nhat Hanh – talk about “deep listening.”

  2. Maren says:

    Thanks for the supportive feedback, Eric! I will look for that novel.

    Things are starting to come together in my mind and with some possible collaborators since I made this posting. Stay tuned for updates as they coalesce!

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