Empathy: Looking, Seeing, Feeling

In a concept where the world seems a battle between extremes, the healing evolution of the collective mind rests in the center of the two perceived polarities. The concept “other, the opposite, the reflection – however it may be specified, can no longer be permitted to be the dominant view. The urbanization, globalization, and powerful all-pervading prominence of social media into our reality give the illusion that the world is superficially coming closer together. But how may we get closer emotionally, and spiritually to each other? The distance between us is a lie. It is a man-made illusion that does not exist any more than the perceived space between drops of water in the ocean. If there were actual space, the water busts lower its temperature so that it can become an aggregate of ice crystals. Creation of global cultures is just why empathy, as a philosophy and a lifestyle, needs to be embraced. Otherwise, the world culture is nothing but a chaotic arrangement of fragments, fractals, unrelated tiles in the mosaic of the Collective Conscious of humanity.

What is empathy?

We usually define “empathy” as the ability to feel what others are feeling. The missing piece in this definition is that empathy cannot exist as a mere intellectual concept. It is a visceral, instinctive unconscious drive that enables the individual to connect with the other lives that make up the whole of civilization. It isn’t an ephemeral feeling; it is a state of greater inner awareness seeking to become conscious. The opposite of empathy is ignorance, a state of willfully ignoring anything outside the confines of belief that provide comfort for the individual ego. It is a form of blindness. We have two eyes that see the same object from a slightly different angle so that we can perceive depth in a three dimensional reality. If we are looking down on someone else, we’re ignorant of their reality, because we are refusing to see from their angle. Empathy requires understanding and respecting both perspectives. This is the ultimate goal of the age of Aquarius, which presents a great opportunity for expansive social evolution. In this period, we will try to establish and celebrate equality without demeaning individuality, and empathy is a prerequisite ingredient to allow this change to become true evolution.

This idea is much harder to implement than to understand. We have witnessed polarization on a number of socio-political issues at the national and international levels. In this intellectual environment, empathy does not come to many of us so readily because it triggers a fear of los of sovereignty or dominance over our place in the world. Empathy can flourish when perspectives change. Psychologically, our perspective defines our reality. Perspective must become a useful tool, and not a limitation. And this is the role and purpose of Art.

When we allow contrast to become conflict, we are missing the opportunity for balance. Contrast can and should be complimentary. One reason this is a challenge for humanity is that we don’t see people as they are, we see them as we are. On a daily basis, we look through our lens and project our values upon others, and we forget that they are doing the same. Perspective-taking, as it is called in psychology, is cognitively a challenge. And it is only half of the solution.
Once we have enabled our minds to see through others’ eyes, we are able to incorporate their feelings into our own emotional reality, and we are thus able to expand our expectations. We can’t do this if remain unaware of our own emotional and spiritual being. Today, emotion and intuition are sacrificed the name of efficiency, often in the form of religious or political dogma. Being in tune with the emotional self doesn’t just enable a peaceful, progressive society, but also allows for self-healing. Aiming for this higher vision will diminish our sense of isolation.

My work, as an artist, has the aim of reawakening the empathy that is the natural state of our souls. Our diminished curiosity can be reversed with photography, which literally shows the world reflected through someone else’s eyes – a lens. Art is a natural inclination to interpret the sight of one’s world: Art often depicts “the other” and for this reason is intrinsically empathic. It achieves this by un-familiarizing the familiar, and familiarizing the unfamiliar, and thus attuning a stance inclusive of all. It opens doors to a new way of seeing. We have a human identity that transcends our differences, and art is the greatest reminder of it.

I paint and photograph people with this frame of mind. On every single face is a different path colliding with those of others, an identity so unique but one that is only a piece of the puzzle, a world on its own but one only existent with reliance on the larger cosmic order.

We have a human identity that transcends our differences, and art is the greatest reminder of it.

Empathy is at the heart of what I do for Gross National Happiness. Empathy requires three fundamental points: understanding of the other, a resonance and compassion of the other, but also a compassion and resonance for the self. The more empathetic we are to others, the more we know and soften ourselves without losing our individual strengths. The whole ego in a way is, not negated, but so calmed that, for a moment, I am you as you share your distress. I create myself as a portal to absorb how you feel about it, which then can impact me, and make me grow as a soul. This is a much higher feeling than mere pity. Empathy is an energetic dialectic.

Empathy means happiness. Gross National Happiness, or GNH, is an interesting metric of what well-being can mean. If we go back to the Greek, happiness, “eudaimonia”, actually means flourishing. What we have to do in our human existence as spiritual beings then is to allow ourselves to flourish by understanding polarities and oscillations of our world, and to own and accept it when we have hatred. We must create systems – not just material systems, but fluid energetic relational systems. And once we have brought ourselves to do that, we are able to sit down and collaborate in creating a civilization we know we are able to do without getting stuck in energies and paradigms that hinder our evolution. GNH is a metric that can include that kind of conversation. The work led by GNH has shown that, empathy for people and for the environment, makes us happier. Understanding and being with the other creates a sense of wholeness that quenches the human thirst for equality, belonging, and balance. Yes, economics plays its part, it always will. But if we solely look at human affairs through the lens of economic success, we’re missing something very important.

  • George H Lewis Portrait Artist & Photographer
  • George H Lewis Portrait Artist & Photographer

George H Lewis | Portrait Artist & Photographer
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