He’s Not Heavy, He’s My Brother

Posted on May 10, 2012


I hear  a lot of talk about the purpose of life, and what it means to people from different cultural, familial, and religious or non religious backgrounds. I listen to the questions “What do you hope to accomplish in your lifetime? What matters to you?” and wait to hear the answers, hoping to see patterns in the responses. And I do.

I see two things. First, people want to be true to themselves, to live the life that comes from an inner joy or bliss. It’s almost as if there’s a collective journey of self-discovery.

I call it remembering who you are.

Second I see a desire to use who you are to make a difference in the world.

To matter.

Some of us want our legacy to be a happy family, a novel, a collection of artwork or symphonies that will be enjoyed for generations, research resulting in discoveries and inventions that benefit humanity somehow, or a life of service in our particular niche or specialty, lightening the burdens of our brothers or sisters.

But in the grand scheme of things do these things really constitute a life fully lived? Can any of us really say that we won’t still wonder if there was more?

My question has always been, if you know who you are and you feel like what you’re doing with your time is making a difference in the world, is there an ingredient that if added would give you a sure knowledge that you’ve lived a fulfilled life? That you would be at peace leaving when your time was up?

I believe there is. And I believe you can learn it very well using social media.

It’s empathy, “the intellectual identification with or vicarious experiencing of the feelings, thought or attitudes of another”, coupled with compassion, ” a feeling of deep sympathy or sorrow for another who is stricken by misfortune, accompanied by a strong desire to alleviate the suffering.”

I’m reminded of a race my oldest daughter ran when she was in the fifth grade, 14 years ago. Every runner was out for himself when the shot rang out startling each into action. Half a mile into the race another runner started to struggle and we watched our daughter from the stands as she slowed her pace and then turned around to run beside another fifth grade girl, a stranger, and stay with her until she made her way to the finish line. She filled no apparent need other than camaraderie. She may have even made the girl feel conspicuous and a bit embarrassed by being singled out instead of ignored. But when I asked her why she did it, she answered, “I don’t know. It just seemed like the right thing to do.”

Another time I asked my oldest son what he’d done at school that day, to which he responded that he’d sat on the school steps during recess. I asked why and he said because there was a boy who wasn’t playing because he had a broken arm. So he sat with him for the hour. Apparently they didn’t know each other well, and didn’t do much talking. I scratched my head and wondered what caused him to be that kind of a boy? I had no answers. I don’t think he did either.

But what of social media? What do these examples have to do with how we approach each other in social media and how that relates to the purpose of life? And how do empathy and compassion develop to benefit all?

I’ll try to be clear.

If I know who I am and I know why I’m here and forget that there is a natural rythymn to my life, ups and downs, peaks and valleys, where others’ kind acknowledgement, easy banter, helpfulness and wisdom sees me through the dark days that come to everyone, and that my up days are an opportunity to lift another, if I forget that, well, good luck to me on feeling at peace or fulfilled for long. Good luck to ever feeling truly connected. Because it’s in our relationship where we strengthen each other and become more human and humane.

Social media is nothing if it’s not a symbiotic, or interdependent relationship.

It’s in another’s joys and success, in their smiles and their relief, that I find my deepest value. It’s where my edges are softened and my supports are strengthened.

When I see you with empathy and compassion in my heart I think about your comfort before or instead of mine. I further your cause before my own. I do that because I know that everyone, friends and strangers who are fast becoming friends, have prayers in their hearts as do I. And none of us know if we are a leg up or a helping hand to each other at any given moment. Do we? Why risk missing the opportunity to find out?

What do you think?

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