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Change Our Story

Composer, author and philanthropist Peter Buffett on finding your own path to life fulfillment.

How Do We Turn Judgment Into Empathy?

Peter Buffett, son of billionaire investor Warren Buffett, is an Emmy Award-winning composer, NY Times best-selling author and noted philanthropist. Currently, he is releasing socially-conscious music and touring his "Concert & Conversation" series in support of his book Life Is What You Make It.

Judgment: the forming of an opinion, estimate, notion, or conclusion, as from circumstances presented to the mind.

Empathy: the action of understanding, being aware of, being sensitive to, and vicariously experiencing the feelings, thoughts, and experience of another.

Every one of us has, at some point in our lives, thought, “If you only knew the whole story you wouldn’t think/say/act like that.” We wished that someone could “walk a mile in our shoes.”

This political season heightens the feeling. Every issue on both sides of the political spectrum ultimately trickles down to effecting individual lives in individual ways. How can the African American single mother of three in Detroit that lost her job be represented inside the same system as the $100,000 per minute hedge fund manager in New York with the offshore accounts? If either is asked about the other, how could they possibly employ empathy? How do any of us achieve true understanding of another's life experience?

Is it possible that a land filled with millions of wildly disparate stories could find enough commonality to fly a single flag?

When this country was founded, farmers made up about 90 percent of the labor force. You can bet that most people had a basic understanding of their neighbor’s situation. Two hundred and thirty years later, the United States was found to have one of the highest levels of income inequality among similarly developed nations.

How can we possibly follow the Golden Rule when the people that have the gold are making the rules?

The only way we can possibly move from a place of judgment about another’s situation is to take the time to hear the story. To listen and absorb the experiences and feelings that makes up someone else’s life.

What’s the fundamental difference in the two definitions above? One has to do with the mind and one has to do with the heart. What if I told you there is recent scientific information that tells us that those two organs are joined in ways we never really imagined?

According to HeartMath, “Research has shown that the heart communicates to the brain in four major ways: neurologically (through the transmission of nerve impulses), biochemically (via hormones and neurotransmitters), biophysically (through pressure waves) and energetically (through electromagnetic field interactions). Communication along all these conduits significantly affects the brain’s activity. Moreover, our research shows that messages the heart sends the brain can also affect performance.”

I believe that when we can base our actions on empathic responses to what we feel—as opposed to judgments that we make—our entire perspective will shift. We will be responsible—able to respond—to each other in the most humane of ways. Christ was quoted as saying, “Live in me, let me live in you.”The way I read that is, when we truly listen and learn through experience, the experience of the “other” we will create a common humanity that knows no judgment, only understanding.

It’s not impossible. It’s a change in the story.

What do you think? Share your story at changeourstory.com. Visit www.peterbuffett.com to learn more and Change Our Story to join the conversation on how we all can become active participants in shaping our future.  

Image courtesy of D.C.Atty, licensed under Creative Commons.