Compassion and empathy

“May you live in interesting times.” This phrase is most often said as a curse, and I am of the opinion that we are now living in interesting times. Many people around us have lost their jobs. Some have lost their homes as well. In these times, it is often difficult to deal with the onslaught of requests for help, monetary or otherwise, when we too may be dealing with financial burdens or the fear of their possibility. It is time to shed our sarcasm and put on our empathetic hats. With this in mind, I have compiled a small list of books that may teach us something about empathy and compassion.

Twelve Steps to a Compassionate Life by Karen Armstrong
I am not a fan of step-by-step books, especially when they use the number ten or twelve, but Karen Armstrong is one of the great writers of our times when it comes to our inner spiritual life.

Wisdom: From Philosophy to Neuroscience by Stephen S. Hall
Written by the author of Size Matters: How Height Affects the Health, Happiness, and Success of Boys, this book contains many interesting chapters on compassion, altruism, humility, and dealing with uncertainty.

The Compassionate Life: Walking the Path of Kindness by Marc Barasch
Barasch travels the world to find compassion and discovers its powers to change who we are and what our society might become. He encounters a plethora of examples from Africa and the Middle East to right here in our back yard.

The Giving Tree by Shel Silverstein
This book of a dysfunctional relationship between a boy and his favorite tree is a lesson in empathy in which neither character gets it right. The brilliant Silverstein leaves it up to the reader to know where the empathy could be.

~Tom the Librarian, Queen Anne Branch

4 thoughts on “Compassion and empathy”

  1. Julie,
    If it sounds like I have qualms with The Giving Tree story (…the story has always bothered me, too.-Julie) than I gave the wrong impression. I think it is a brilliant and nearly perfect story where Silverstein asks the reader to use her critical thinking and imagination to view the empathic error of his “protagonist” and hopefully to be cognizant of the other in our actions and responses. Thank you for the interesting link and your response.
    And here’s another opinion too http://www.epinions.com/review/Giving_Tree_by_Shel_Silverstein/content_420669329028

  2. Sorry for the confusion–I could tell you admired it. My “too” referred to the criticisms in the link I attached. And that said, I must admit that I think that any book that inspires conversation about these sorts of topics is probably a good one for kids to read (and then discuss).

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