Throughout my life, I have been addicted to ‘goosebumps’. You know that feeling when something inspires you, when you read a story of someone triumphing over adversity, when the impossible becomes possible? These moments can be read like a brail bible up my arm as my body physically reacts when such stories chance into my daily life: goosebumps are a tell-tale sign that you care.
I met a man years ago who was my age at the time named Emmanuel Yebouweh, from Ghana. He spoke at the school I was teaching at called Allen-Stevenson in New York City to my students ages 9-15. Emmanuel has only one leg in a country where the handicapped are considered a national curse who are supposed to be left to die at birth. His mother raised him instead and he learned to hop wherever he wanted to go.
One day, someone showed him the internet and he decided he was going to change how his country viewed the handicapped: he would ride across his country on a bicycle one-legged to raise awareness! Determined to do so, he contacted a US-based foundation who sent him a mountain bike and that was that! He biked across Ghana, was the first handicap person invited to the presidential palace, has since started a wheelchair project, and now has a facility for disabled athletes in Ghana to train and go to the Special olympics! Hello, can you say GOOSEBUMPS! Just imagining what he went through inspires me! I felt a kick in the ass during that assembly: he nudged me to ‘go for it!’ If he can do all of that by age 27, I have no excuses, I thought to myself.
This phenomenon in my life was exemplified during my high school senior year soccer season when my best friend Zack and I captained our squad to an undefeated season. Throughout those fall months, there was that unspoken buzz in the air from teammate to teammate as we got closer to the perfect season, knowing that we were part of something special. With each win, we were inspired to work harder, to work together closer, and most importantly, to trust each other more deeply. Because we knew what each other were feeling, no one wanted to let anyone down. Even as I type this, those familiar goosebumps just shot across up & down my spine just thinking back to those glory days!
Empathy is the ability to imagine what someone else is feeling. While that definition can be said very easily, embodying empathy can be very uncomfortable for many people I have known in my life! Why? Being empathetic sometimes means admitting that something you may be doing or supporting may actually be causing the suffering of someone else. I have marveled at people’s resistance to being empathetic. And for many years, I was very angry at many friends for what I considered their inability to be empathetic to me as I dealt with a sexual assault involving a very close friend of mine.
But since then, I have let go of that anger and recalibrated my focus to seek those people who actively choose to be empathic as their modis operendi! Voila, life instantly became very exciting!
“Empathizers” come in all sizes, colors, and nationalities. I call them Change Activists because they are able to identify problems that are causing suffering in their own life and in the lives of those they love in their communities which inspires them to create change! Even with zero resources, they step up and find a way. Empathy lubes their engines because they can feel the suffering of others and are moved to generate positive change.
All of us can be empathetic! It is simply a choice. Do you want to live in your own bubble or do you want to open your eyes and climb into the skin of another creature? I promise, it might not be comfortable, but once I started imagining life through other beings’ eyes, I couldn’t stop!
I admit it, I get high on empathy. I get seduced by the goosebumps that manifest when I read about someone somewhere doing something that uplifts people, animals, or the planet.
If there was one single thing that I think could change the world, it is EMPATHY! We can never have too much empathy for other creatures and for the world. Once you imagine what a pig’s life is like in a factory farm, and I mean truly imagine it, you can’t help but shift your consumption away from pork completely or at least towards pork that was produced humanely.
While much of the world would rather act like they don’t know what is going on that is causing pain and suffering, there is a growing cadre of change activists around the world that are generating empathy in enormous quantities! It is so immensely exciting for people like me as each day I get to connect to people and stories that inspire me!
I hope my body never loses the ability to be empathetic and to feel goosebumps! It is a human experience unlike any other, second only to an orgasm, I guess. They may actually be tied in my book!
::Founder of OneNationUnderMom.Com TheMovementShala.Org & FedByThreads.Org