Cultivating Understanding in a Divided World

Author: Esther Sarlo, BA, Founder | CEO | Myndful Spark of Mynd Myself

In exploring this topic, my memories and the level of vulnerability that emerged surprised me a bit…but here it is. I’m not looking for sympathy. I’m simply providing an opportunity for “noticing.” As R.D. Laing, author of The Divided Self, writes:

The range of what we think and do is limited by what we fail to notice. And because we fail to notice that we fail to notice, there is little we can do to change; until we notice how failing to notice shapes our thoughts and deeds.

Were you ever a Star Trek: The Next Generation fan who loved watching Counselor Deanna Troi? I remember enjoying this character—played by actress Marina Sirtis—as she shared her wisdom with calm warmth, patience, and empathy while dispensing advice and perspective to Captain Picard and her fellow crew members. Maybe I really liked her because I didn’t feel like I was treated that way very often.

Growing up 

I did not receive much inclusion or empathy. I was an awkward kid who tended to carry extra weight on my body, even as a toddler. Larger and taller than most of my peers, I felt as if I “stuck out like a sore thumb.” Then, when I started school, it got even worse. Although I was highly intelligent and I could already read when I started kindergarten (thanks to my older sister with whom I shared a bedroom and who would drill me on my spelling and words after “lights out,”) I was set apart from the other “normal kids” in a number of other ways.

As a family, we were heavily involved in our church community when most others around us had no religious affiliation or interest. To my deep embarrassment, our particular brand of Christianity required that we kept the ideology of, “go into all the world and make disciples,” at the forefront of our lives. I was conflicted from my own first glimmers of consciousness—which I remember from my crib. Yup, blessed or cursed—however you look at it—with memories before the age of two.


My experience of cognitive dissonance started early, and I never felt like I fit in anywhere. I didn’t belong. I was highly sensitive, but I had no outlet for this sensitivity. I couldn’t talk to anyone about my feelings as the message I received was, “it was my cross to bear.” “Martyrs for Christ,” and all that! To top it off, we also had this strange notion of superiority—like we had a corner on the truth and everyone else was going to hell. Hmmmm. Looking back on it, I’m clear it was not a nurturing, inviting, or welcoming philosophical milieu for a sensitive to be raised in, that’s for sure.

In the free-love, hippie era of the 1970s, when bell-bottoms and mini-skirts were all the rage, and in the 1980s with all its material excesses, I had to wear circumspect dresses or skirts every day to school. The biblical instruction for women “not to wear men’s apparel” and dressing “modestly, with decency and propriety,” was rigorously adhered to, at least in our household.

With all those constraints and emotional landmines I had to navigate, there wasn’t much empathy coming my way in the schoolyard.

Defining Moment

I remember one searing, moment etched into my memory at the age of six that absolutely “confirmed” for me that the world was not a safe or loving place. I was in grade one and girl in grade seven came up to me during our recess break and yelled, “You’re a f#!*@n’ c*#t!” as she spit a huge gob of sticky saliva directly in my face. I was devastated. I didn’t know what any of those words meant (I’d never heard them before) but I knew they weren’t complimentary! And I FELT the intense anger projected at me. I hadn’t done anything to this girl…nor to her brother who was in my class. She just came at me out of nowhere. Everything inside me shut down, my gut clenched tight, and it was all I could do not to burst into humiliated tears. Reflecting back now, I wonder what difficulties and troubles this twelve-year-old girl must have been experiencing in her own life that had a hand in her lashing out that way she did at someone half her age.

Over my elementary and high school years, I cannot count the number of times I experienced that same feeling. In North America, schools can be places of joyful learning…but they can also be places of unspeakable misery. What was school like for you? What were your experiences with empathy—from either the receiving or giving perspective?

The Other Side

As I write this, I’m asking myself why I felt the need to share this deeply personal journey with you? Is it about expunging some long-held demon from my system? Is it about purging any last vestiges of a “victim state” from my cells? Is it simply being present to what emerged as I set my timer and started to write about empathy?

I believe, perhaps in part, it’s simply about being vulnerable and letting you into a part of my “old world” in which I no longer live. I love my life now. On the odd occasion, if someone does project or spew something negative at me, I am so grateful for how far I’ve come, for how deeply I allow myself to love me for who I am, for the profoundly different perspective I hold about life and relationships. Those old stories and feelings have contributed to making me who I am. They have informed and provided the DNA for our tagline, “Because you matter!” No one should have to endure what I went through…but many do…and endure far more than me.

What is Empathy?

ChatGPT describes empathy as

The ability to understand and share the feelings of another person. It involves putting yourself in someone else’s shoes, experiencing their emotions, and comprehending their perspective without necessarily agreeing with it. Empathy allows you to connect with others on an emotional level, cultivating compassion, understanding, and support. It involves not only recognizing and acknowledging someone else’s feelings but also responding with sensitivity and kindness. Empathy is an essential aspect of social interaction, communication, and building meaningful relationships.

As I reread what I’ve written, I remind myself of how powerful empathy is and evaluate how well and how often I incorporate empathy into my daily life. I do know it is one of my non-negotiable filters and values.

What’s Your Journey?

  • In what fire have you been forged?
  • How has this shaped empathy in your world?
  • Is it something you ever think about?
  • How capable and willing are you to put yourself in another’s shoes?
  • Do you use empathy as a lens through which you view others and their actions?
  • Or do you forget about it?

In the heat of the moment sometimes, I know I forget.

What would our world be like if we had more empathy for each other? If we imagined, with compassion, what might be going on in another’s circumstances and situation—whether we knew the details or not?

Empathy is one of the things that sets us apart from all other beings…if we let it.

DISCLAIMER: All of the information provided in this blog is provided by Mynd Myself for your general knowledge only. All the blog Information is not a substitute for professional medical advice or treatment for specific medical conditions. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health care provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition… READ MORE

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