The Empathy of Children
by Robert Rabbin
To see the world in a grain of sand,
And heaven in a wild flower, Hold
infinity in the palm of your hand,
eternity in an hour.
During the first few months of 2003, I
was taught something remarkable by
123 children, from 2 to 13 years of age. Along with my co-author, Deborah
Masters, I interviewed them for our
new book, The Spiritual Wisdom of
Each and every one of them confirmed the majestic beauty of Blake's famous
lines which, for 200 years, have ignited the spiritual imagination of
people the world over. Like a philosopher's stone that transmutes base
metal into gold, Blake's words have the power to transform and uplift
human life, to unfetter and set free the soaring spirit of the higher
And so, too, do these
children have this power, for they draw their wisdom from the same well as
Blake drew his. In the same way we learn from Blake, we can learn from
There is something
remarkable about these kids, and about kids the world over: they
experience life in a way that expresses deep and profound wisdom. Their
wisdom is born of their own connection to life and to living things.
Children, especially infants, still glow with a pure and innocent light;
and it is their shining light that causes us to stop and stare and smile,
because in that moment we step out of time and into a timelessness where
we are warmed by secrets we, too, once knew and can remember again through
the grace of children.
As I reflect on the many
things I learned from speaking with these kids, one of their teachings
stands taller than the others: empathy. They have empathy for all things
in creation. Empathy is not sentimental; it is not emotional imagination.
Empathy is "the action of understanding, being aware of and sensitive
to, and vicariously experiencing the feelings, thoughts, and experience of
another…" Synonyms include words like communion, unity, harmony,
kinship, oneness. The kids feel and identify with the spirit, soul,
and personality within all living things, and this living spirit is what
they call God. For them, as for Blake, it is common knowledge that God is
everything. God is not a concept for them, not an abstraction, not a
separating and polarizing ideal.
the kids, God-the-creator does not remain separate from the created: God
is also the creation. God is "a skier and a chipmunk,"
says 5-year old Nicole Childers, and God is "your hair and the Arctic
Ocean," remarks Eleanor Silverstein, 9. Julia Egger frames this
poignantly, "If you see a pretty flower, it's God. If you see a
homeless man that has a twinkle in his eye, that's God." Isn't this
wonderful news? God is the creator and the created! There is room for
everyone and space for all. How could anyone argue or fight about
religious differences, when there are none? How could anyone claim God is
on my side?—implying that God is not equally on the other side? Isn't
this utterly foolish?
As we grow older, we
often lose our appreciation for qualities such as awe, mystery, and magic,
perhaps thinking they must be put aside as "things of a child."
This is tragic, for in losing touch with these qualities, we lose our
ability to feel life's giant pulse, its sanctity and splendor. As we lose
our ability to feel, our hearts become diminished and we take false refuge
in our reasoning mind. The kids tell us this is a mistake. The kids tell
us that we must never diminish our hearts. We must never abandon our
heart's rhythmic relationship to all others in the family of living
Rauchle, 6, reminds us to "help everyone in the world; the world is
our home. Families are our home, too." The world is our home, and all
the families who live in our home are our family. This is their teaching:
We are one family and this world is our home. "To
see the world in a grain of sand, And heaven in a wild flower..."
What I learned from the
kids is that their simple wisdom comes from their feeling of being
brothers and sisters with every living thing. They do not objectify
others; they keep others within themselves, as a part of their own self.
Their vision of the order of things, while innocent, is also true and
self-evident to those whose eyes are still clear, whose hearts are still
open and unafraid of love and connection. Love, for these kids, is the
organizing principle of life. They experience love as the oxygen of their
soul; they cannot breathe or live without it. Love, they say, is the
feeling of being connected to the whole of creation and bound to other
living beings. Bigotry and prejudice are not hardwired into human beings.
This armor and the armament of hatred are learned later, at the expense of
The kids speak
inclusively. They haven't yet learned how to think of plants, animals, and
people as separate from themselves. In their heart, in the rolling fields
of love in which they play, with a bright sun overhead, all are welcomed,
no one is excluded.
We have much to learn
the voices of children are heard on the green, And laughing is heard on
the hill, My heart is at rest within my breast, And everything else is
Robert Rabbin is a contemporary mystic, author, and catalyst for clarity. He leads Truth Talks throughout the country. For more information about his work and to contact him, please visit www.robrabbin.com
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