There’s no reconciliation without a complete healing process. I teach that empathy leads to compassion, compassion leads to forgiveness, forgiveness leads to atonement. These qualities are prerequisites for real reconciliation. You can’t have empathy for someone you don’t know, so you have to meet, you have to look at the history, you have to have that spiritual, physical connection. The way that we teach in the school is that empathy is a big word. You don’t know me until you’ve walked a mile in my shoes; I don’t know you until I’ve walked a mile in your shoes. Then I get it. If I walk a mile in your shoes I get to know you and you get to know me. That’s empathy.
Here’s an example from a class we teach in empathy. There was an Hispanic kid, a seventh grader, who, in his walk, in his mannerisms, a wannabe gang member. But when we taught this class on empathy the stories got to him. We had told the students, “Now practice empathy. Get to know somebody you don’t know now by walking a mile in their shoes. Then next week when you get to your class on compassion you share your homework.”
The next week the teacher we were working with asked, “Who wants to share their homework on empathy?”
The Hispanic kid put his hand up. This was the most disruptive kid in the class! I hesitated, wondering if I wanted to risk him ruining the class, but I called him anyway. But what he said was that the rules are very simple. It was brilliant.
“I was walking in the hood last week,” he said, “and this kid gave me a dirty, angry look. A seventh grader! He was African-American; I am Hispanic. If a kid gives you a dirty, angry look you go beat him up. But since you taught me you don’t know me until you walk a mile in my shoes, and I don’t know you until I walk a mile in your shoes, I walked right up to him and said: ‘Why are you giving me a dirty, angry look?’ The kid said to me, ‘I’m not giving you a dirty, angry look I’m angry because my brother was shot and killed last night.’ So I reached out to him and I held his hand and we cried together. I told him, ‘I know you feel because my uncle was shot and killed six months ago.’”
Do you see the power of this?
Think about it. This is empathy. What could have become a violent act was transformed into a compassionate act. He took the time to say to this kid, “I want to know who you are.” Once you have that connection you can empathize, and you can’t commit violence. The kids knows how each other feels. A connection has been made. And he then walks the road every weekend.
This story, from an interview Phil Cousineau conducted with Azim Khamisa at his home in La Jolla, California in 2009, is excerpted from the book, Beyond Forgiveness: Reflections on Atonement, with permission of the publisher Jossey-Bass, a Wiley Imprint. Copyright © 2011 by Phil Cousineau and Richard J. Meyer. We invite you to share your own story of forgiveness and healing here!
For more on Azim Khamisa, view “Learning How to Forgive and Heal Oneself,” featuring a five minute video clip of Phil Cousineau’s Global Spirit Forgiveness and Healing program with Azim Khamisa, Ed Tick and Kate Dahlstedt on Link TV. See the full version of the program here (55 minutes). Learn about the important work of the Tariq Khamisa Foundation.
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