empathy

Men Really Need Intimate Friendships, Too

Are Male Friendships Different From Female Friendships? My wife Shasta Nelson is one of the leading friendship experts these days, especially in the realm of female friendships.  Her book Friendships Don't Just Happen:  The Guide to Creating a Meaningful Circle of Girlfriends is one of the most complete and profound explanations and prescriptions of the multifaceted dimensions of healthy friendships - why it's important and how it can be developed and sustained in deep and meaningful ways.

As I've read her book and listened to her speak to multiple audiences, I've thought how much men need and crave this kind of friendship intimacy, too.

It's been a fascinating experience bringing this view up in conversations with men and women.  Invariably, some people respond by saying that male friendship looks different and men approach relationships from a completely different standpoint, their needs simply are different - as one male expert puts it, men's friendships are more "shoulder to shoulder" compared to women's which are "face to face".  Men bond over activities as compared to women who bond in conversation and self-disclosure.

For some reason, most likely a lot from my own personal experience as well as all my work as a coach and pastor with both genders, I've had a difficult time with that stereotypical and simplified depiction of male friendship.  I reject the notion that men don't crave intimacy  (which includes the need for honest and authentic self-disclosure and empathy) as much as women in our friendships.

When I have coaching conversations with men and create a safe space in which they can share their lives deeply and authentically, I'm finding that men are as fully capable, and in fact as sincerely interested, in full disclosure and admittance of the need for intimacy and honest sharing.  They are craving the same kind of depth and closeness in their friendships as women do, but for the most part they're simply not getting it.

Latest Research on Men's Friendships:  How the Shift Happens

Turns out, research is now showing this craving for depth and intimacy is absolutely true about men and their friendships.  Men are in fact wired with not only this same desire but also the capability for the same kind of intimate, deep friendships.

According to a recent article in Salon ("American Men’s Hidden  Crisis: They Need More Friends!") New York University psychologist Dr. Niobe Way studied and interviewed boys in each year of high school.  What she found was fascinating.

Until the age of 15-16, all the boys she interviewed described their friendships with other boys using the same vocabulary as the girls used about their friendships:

"Younger boys spoke eloquently about their love for and dependence on their male friends. In fact, research shows that boys are just as likely as girls to disclose personal feelings to their same-sex friends and they are just as talented at being able to sense their friends’ emotional states."

Then something happened.  From the age of 15-16 on (right at the same age that the suicide rate of boys increases to four times the rate of girls), the same boys talked about their guy friends far differently.

One of the boys described this shift the way almost all of those boys who were interviewed did:

When he was 15:  "[My best friend and I] love each other… that’s it… you have this thing that is deep, so deep, it’s within you, you can’t explain it. It’s just a thing that you know that person is that person… I guess in life, sometimes two people can really, really understand each other and really have a trust, respect and love for each other."

But when the same boy was a senior in high school, notice the shift:  "[My friend and I] we mostly joke around. It’s not like really anything serious or whatever… I don’t talk to nobody about serious stuff… I don’t talk to nobody. I don’t share my feelings really. Not that kind of person or whatever… It’s just something that I don’t do."

Why the Shift Happens

So what is happening?  As researchers are noting, as boys get older they are becoming conditioned to disassociate from what are often seen as more feminine qualities in order to be manly, macho, accepted in the male places of our world.

For example, why is it that sports coaches or military sergeants, in trying to motivate guys, call them "girls" -- as if somehow that demeaning use of a perfectly neutral term is suppose to inspire guys to be stronger, try harder, be more of a man?

So men learn early on to disassociate themselves from anything feminine--which unfortunately leads to a distancing from the experiences and expressions of need for intimacy, closeness, self disclosure, empathy, and other feelings.  Which in turn serves to isolate them from developing meaningful and close friendships with other men.

But as research continually reveals, this disassociation is actually distancing us as men from our complete selves by cutting vital parts of ourselves out.

Tragic Consequences of This Shift

Here's the way Lisa Wade, in her Salon article, reflecting Dr. Niobe Way's significant research, describes the tragic outcome:

"So men are pressed — from the time they’re very young — to disassociate from everything feminine.This imperative is incredibly limiting for them. Paradoxically, it makes men feel good because of a social agreement that masculine things are better than feminine things, but it’s not the same thing as freedom. It’s restrictive and dehumanizing. It’s oppression all dressed up as awesomeness. And it is part of why men have a hard time being friends."

Two Things Men Need to ReShift and ReFocus On Who They Really Are

First, Men need positive male role models to show the power and transformational experience of intimate friendships with other men - friendships built around mutual self-disclosure, honesty, authenticity, empathy, caring for each other, and yes, sharing good times with each other, too.  Male friendships are not an either/or proposition.  It's both/and.

And Second, Men need to be given permission that it's not caving to a stereotypical feminine way of being by wanting and engaging in deeper, caring male friendships.  Men need this permission from the women in their lives and from other men.  The media isn't helping at all!  So others need to step up and openly talk about what it means to be a male with all the multifaceted qualities men have inside them that need to be expressed and that contribute to building deep and lasting and meaningful friendships with other men.

Because the truth is, men are hardwired with a yin and yang of qualities:  we are both "soft" and "hard" -- we crave strength and power, and we also long for warmth, intimacy, caring, and empathetic nurturing and sharing.  Men have been cultured to neglect one for the sake of the other.  But it's both/and.

And the sooner we men embrace this truth, the healthier we will be emotionally, mentally, physically, and relationally.  We will be living in alignment with who we truly are.  And that's always the place of greatest authentic power and well being.

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If you or someone you know in your organization is looking for keynote speakers or workshop teachers for events in your company, congregation, or association gatherings, I would be happy to come speak on this theme or others like it.  And interested in strengths coaching?  Feel free to email me at greg@gregorypnelson.com.

It's Time to Leverage the Culture Shift: Necessary Leadership Styles for the 21st Century

Research on Effective Leadership Styles Important research these days is revealing some significant trends in how people are thinking about leadership, the style they want to see in their leaders, and what style is proving to be the most effective in solving today's complex global problems.

Gone are the days where the macho approach is looked up to as the savior of our problems.  That current track record speaks for itself.

Qualities to Move Away From.  "Everywhere, people are frustrated by a world long dominated by codes of male thinking and behavior: Codes of control, aggression and black- and-white thinking that have contributed to many of the problems we face today, from wars and income inequality to reckless risk-taking and scandal."*

Qualities to Embody More of.  Instead, says a growing body of academic and industry research, "senior executives around the world and across industries put qualities such as collaboration, creativity, flexibility, empathy, patience, humility and balance right at the top of the list of crucial leadership characteristics for the future."**

Soft Vs. Hard.  There are those in our culture who still choose to see these qualities as "soft" versus "hard" - they can't embrace them as truly significant to the bottom line of productivity and financial sustainability and growth - they see these qualities as luxuries at best, and perhaps curriculum to be relegated to Human Resources department if at all.

This leads to a tragic sidelining of what is increasingly showing to be more effective in the long run in addressing the fundamental needs of our organizations and markets with their complex, global, and interconnected challenges.  This short-sighted and biased view continues to do damage on multiple layers of our human systems and organizations.  Productivity and engagement are at all-time lows in our country.

In contrast, natural biologists are providing us with powerful examples of how the more relational and collaborative qualities are in fact hard-wired in the natural world to powerful effect.  My last blog post described birch trees and rhododendrons in a symbiotic relationship.

Here's another:  take the barheaded geese, for example.

Learning From Barheaded Geese

Flying GeeseIt’s estimated that at least 50,000 of them winter in India.  And when summer nears, they undertake the two month 5000 mile migration back to their home in Central Asia.  What makes this trip remarkable is that the route they choose to take every year is the world’s steepest migratory flight—they fly over the highest mountain in the world, Mount Everest in the Himalayas.

Amazingly, this route is where the air is thinnest and oxygen level lowest.  What’s more, the thinner air means that less lift is generated when the birds flap their wings, thereby increasing the energy costs of flying by around 30 per cent.  And yet they still fly the same route over the highest place on earth.  Imagine it!

Scientists now find that these geese do not make use of tailwinds or updrafts that could give them a boost up the mountain.  One of the remarkable resources they choose instead to rely upon is teamwork---collaboration.

Drafting.  Geese are famous for utilizing in flight the V-formation which helps reduce individual energy consumption by up to 30%.  Professional cyclists use the same principle that empowers them to sustain high energy and power for endurance races like the Tour de France (over 2000 miles in 21 days).  Drafting.

The whole flock of geese gets over 70% better mileage than if each bird flew solo.  When the lead bird gets weary, it drops back and a new one takes the lead.  As the birds vigorously flap their wings, it creates lift for the bird behind.  These geese actually choose to fly over Mt. Everest at one time rather than breaking up the trip, typically a grueling eight hour marathon.

And in addition, if one of the geese gets too tired or gets injured or sick, two of the other geese shepherd the weaker one back down to the ground and stay with it until it either gets stronger or dies.  Then they rejoin the group or find another group to fly with to complete their migration.

Clearly, there is no physical way these birds could soar over Mt. Everest without this kind of drafting, teamwork, and collaboration.  Forget it!

And yet so many of us individuals, including many organizations that insist on a few at the top within hierarchical structures possessing all the power, continue to assault our Everests ineffectively.

The Qualities That Make A Difference

What social science and organizational effectiveness research is telling us these days is that similarly there is no way we can scale the Mt. Everest-sized global challenges we face without prioritizing and valuing these same qualities:  teamwork, collaboration, empathy, nurturing, loyalty.

The days of the solo leader (or small group of men who conduct the business war games and deals in the backroom), projecting an omnicompetent ability, standing at the top of the hierarchy of power, position, and status, omniscient in wisdom, who has only to speak and command the vision, strategy, and way forward, are gone (or should be gone).

"In the new economy ‘winning’ is becoming a group construct: Masculine traits like aggression and independent trail the feminine values of collaboration and sharing credit. And being loyal (which is feminine) is more valued than being proud (which is masculine), which points to being devoted to the cause rather than one’s self. And that we want our leaders to be more intuitive—(also feminine)—speaks to the lack of many leaders to have the capacity to relate to ordinary people and their points of view."*

We have to intentionalize systems and structures that help us rely on each other, where everyone is empowered to contribute their best strengths, where organizational and team health is seen to be as important as ROI and the financial bottomline, where we mentor others and stand beside them to support their growing development, where we manifest patience and empathy instead of "get it or leave here" attitude, where we employ technicolor instead of black-or-white thinking to our problems.

If we want to soar over our Mt. Everests, we will choose to be more like the barheaded geese.

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* The Athena Doctrine:  How Women (and the Men Who Think Like Them) Will Rule the Future, Michael D'Antonio & John Gerzema.

** Gayle Peterson, associate fellow of Saïd Business School, University of Oxford, and co-director of its Women Transforming Leadership program, "We Don't Need A Hero, We Just Need More Women At the Top" (The Guardian, Nov. 13, 2013)

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If you or someone you know in your organization is looking for keynote speakers or workshop teachers for events in your company, congregation, or association gatherings, I would be happy to come speak on this theme or others like it.  Feel free to email me at greg@gregorypnelson.com.

Four Secrets to Paying Attention Well and Why That's Important

Research from the Associated Press shows*:attentionspan The average attention span in 2012: 8 seconds The average attention span in 2000: 12 seconds The average attention span of a goldfish: 9 seconds Clearly, we've got an attention span problem in our culture.

And considering that the majority of us spend 70 to 80 percent of our waking hours communicating, what kind of communication is actually happening every day with such short attention spans?

Think about this for a minute.  The ability to communicate and be present with each other is one of the most important things we learn as humans.  Dr. Jack Bennett, a life coach who explores happiness, behavior change, and personal development, emphasizes, “Giving someone our full, undivided attention is fundamental to our business and interpersonal relationships."*

The outcomes are hugely significant.  Effective communication creates a bond of closeness, reduces conflict, enhances personal and professional relationships, and in many cases, helps you get more of what you want out of life.

But, when faced with the chance to listen to what someone has to say, to tune in and "be present," most of us are falling short. We're busy thinking about ourselves, what we're going to say next in conversations, or our errands, our work or in so many cases, we're busy focused on electronics.  We're simply not paying attention.

Graham D. Bodie, professor of communication studies at The Louisiana State University, in extensive research about outcomes to paying attention, reveals that people who are good listeners are more liked, rated as more attractive and garner more trust than those who are less proficient at listening.  They are also high academic achievers, have better socio-emotional development, and are even more likely to get promoted at work.  Fairly significant outcomes, I'd say!*

So with all this research reinforcing the importance of paying quality attention to each other, why do we do so little of it?  Why have we allowed our attention span to decrease through the years rather than increase?  Why is our emotional intelligence more stunted than ever before in spite of being confronted with more information about what it takes to live mature, effective, and healthy lives?  Why is our communication ability so poor?  Do we simply not know how?  Or are we so self absorbed and lazy that we refuse to engage in the work?

Four Secrets to Paying Attention Well

I am of the firm opinion that you and I can learn how to pay more effective attention in our communications with others.  We can learn how to listen better.toddler-attention-span-300x300

Here are four things to work on that improve our attention capabilities.

Observe - Eye contact - Mindfulness - Empathize.

Choose to observe - notice the other person.  What is their body language saying?  Can you mirror it?  What are you seeing about him or her right now?  What does that tell you about what they're feeling?  What do you observe about your own body language?  What feelings or thoughts is that communicating?  Communication involves two people interacting together.  You can't improve what you don't observe.

Choose to make eye contact.  This establishes a connection, a bond, and indicates you're interested.  On average, according to experts, the appropriate amount of eye contact is 50% while speaking and 70% while listening.  If, as the saying goes, the eyes are the windows to the soul, you pretty much have to notice the eyes in order to connect meaningfully to people.

Choose to be mindful.  Effective listening is about not just having your mouth quiet but also your mind quiet.  It's keeping yourself from the tendency to be thinking about what you're going to say next or other more pressing issues in order to be "fully present" to the other person.  The more you practice mindfulness outside of interpersonal communication, the more you can perform it inside.

Choose to empathize.  Here's the way one author puts it:  "Empathizing with someone is really having the ability to understand the 'humanity of a situation' and knowing what it means to be in the other person’s shoes."

We all want to be understood and validated.  That's what helps us be more fully alive and ourselves.  Empathy from others gives us that gift.  You can give it, too.

"When we truly feel listened to, in the emotional sense of the word, we feel more satisfied with our relationships.  What’s more, people who have a high EQ—emotional intelligence—are capable of making better decisions simply because they have the capacity to see a situation from someone else’s perspective."  (Dr. Graham Bodie) *

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There's A Price For Not Paying Attention

The Bay area news reported recently on a young university student who was riding the MUNI when a complete stranger suddenly shot him as he began to exit from the train.  The MUNI cameras recorded the whole situation.

What made the event even more tragic was that the perpetrator had his gun out in the open for a long time while standing there on the train, even using it to scratch his nose at one point.  But no one noticed it.  In fact, no one even noticed the entire exchange.  As the cameras so blatantly recorded, everyone in that car had their heads down, eyes glued to their phones and tablets.  They simply weren't paying any attention to anything other than themselves.

We're living in a culture that is becoming increasingly self absorbed.  Our human connections are paying a price.  Communication is being stunted and more and more ineffective.  People just aren't listening and paying attention to each other in meaningful, healthy ways.

But we can choose to be different.  We can choose to pay attention.  We can choose healthy and effective communication with each other.  We can practice and learn.

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* This reference and several of the research reference points are thanks to Ashley Neglia, "The #1 Skill of Extremely Likable (and Successful) People" (Grandparents.com, 9/26/2013)

A Secret to Living in the Moment and Enjoying More Peace

[If you like these posts, feel free to share them with others - click on the share button to the right.  If you would like to receive each new blog post as an automatic email, please subscribe at the right.] So what does it take for you to live in the moment - to be truly present in a place of peace?

Karen Armstrong is a former nun and now one of the world's foremost authorities on comparative religions with her latest book A Case For God topping the best-seller list.  She is also the recent creator of the "Charter for Compassion," whose signatories (like Prince Hassan of Jordan and the Dalai Lama) fight extremism, hatred, and exploitation throughout the world.  She was recently asked by Oprah's O Magazine what it takes to live in the moment, to seize the day.  She replied:

"Sometimes you wake up at 3 A.M. when everything seems dark, and you think, 'Life isn't fair. I've got too much to do. I'm too put-upon.' It's a rat run of self-pity! But when you feel compassion, you dethrone yourself from the center of the world. Doing that has made me a more peaceful person."

It's amazing how much stress we put ourselves under when we sit on the throne of our lives, trying to be in control of everything.  Rather than producing peace, this worldview contributes to anxiety and distress instead.  It's kind of like trying to spin multiple plates on sticks.  The first few plates we seem to handle pretty well.  But as the plates get added, we're running around trying to keep them all from falling and breaking into pieces.  It isn't long before the task is simply too much for us, no matter how gifted or full of energy we might be.  So much for ruling our kingdoms with ease.

I like Karen Armstrong's perspective - what helps to dethrone us from the center of the world is compassion - having an outward focus of empathy and caring toward others.  Counter-intuitively, including more people in our lives that we give love to actually decreases our dis-stress and anxiety and centers us more in a peaceful frame of heart, mind, and spirit.  It's almost like we were designed to live with compassion.

And actually, we were!  Neuroscience research in fact reveals that compassion, helping others, triggers activity in the portions of the brain that turn on when people receive rewards or experience pleasure.  Every compassionate act causes a pleasurable physiological response.  In addition, behaviors associated with compassionate love—warm smiles, friendly hand gestures, affirmative forward leans—actually produce more oxytocin in the body which is the hormone that promotes feelings of warmth and connection to others and enhances feelings of trust.

And the compassionate act doesn't have to fancy or extreme or complicated at all.  Dr. Lorne Ladner, a clinical psychologist in private practice in the suburbs of Washington, D.C., wrote:  “I just recently read one research study that found that people who pray for others tend to live longer than those who do not. The point is that when we develop feelings of love or compassion, we may not always be able to actually benefit others in a direct way, but we ourselves do always benefit from such feelings. They serve as causes for our own happiness.” When's the last time you chose to actually pray a blessing for someone else?  How difficult is that?

So Karen Armstrong seems to be on to something when she talks about her personal experience of how compassion actually helps her live more peacefully.  The act of dethroning self with our obsessive need to control life by giving authentic love and compassion to others is a eustress rather than a distress - the positive, energy-producing kind of stress rather than the debilitating kind.   And the long term affects of this are truly transformative.

Compassionate acts as simple as loving, sympathetic touch are powerful, too.  According to experts in a study about emotion and touch, sympathetic touches are processed by receptors under the surface of the skin, and set in motion a cascade of beneficial physiological responses:

"Female participants waiting anxiously for an electric shock showed activation in threat-related regions of the brain, a response quickly turned off when their hands were held by loved ones nearby. Friendly touch stimulates activation in the vagus nerve, a bundle of nerves in the chest that calms fight-or-flight cardiovascular response and triggers the release of oxytocin, which enables feelings of trust.  Research by Darlene Francis and Michael Meaney reveals that sympathetic environments — those filled with warm touch — create individuals better suited to survival and reproduction, as Darwin long ago surmised. Rat pups who receive high levels of tactile contact from their mothers — in the form of licking, grooming, and close bodily contact — later as mature rats show reduced levels of stress hormones in response to being restrained, explore novel environments with greater gusto, show fewer stress-related neurons in the brain, and have more robust immune systems."

The practice of compassion has the potential of radically transforming the life of the giver as well as the lives of the receivers.  No wonder Jesus, in concluding his public discourse about the values of God's kingdom, connected the giving of compassion, living a life of unconditional love and care for all others (including even our enemies) with a life characterized by freedom from worry, anxiety, and distress (Matthew 5-6).  Compassion, one of the most godly things we can do in life, puts us in place of inner peace and tranquility, a state of trust and unselfishness in the very heart of the Divine Life.

So what empowers you to be able to live in the moment, to seize the day, even in the midst of stress?  Have you tried compassion lately?  As the spiritual and scientific experts reminds us, it just might help transform your heart, mind, spirit, and body.



Four Ways To Overcome the Spirit of Indifference

We all read about it in the news last Monday.  Many of us saw the video.  Hugo Alfredo Tale-Yax, 31, a Guatemalan immigrant who went to New York City in order to help his family back home, made his living as a day laborer, and when the economy crumbled, so did his job prospects. He wound up homeless, first living in shelters and then finally on the streets. A grainy surveillance video trained on a street in Jamaica, Queens, on April 18 captured the final moments of Mr. Tale-Yax’s life: A couple argues, Mr. Tale-Yax comes to the woman’s aid, the man stabs him in the stomach and runs away.

Helping a stranger was the last act of a broken man.

The video has made headlines across the globe, not just for its brutality, but for the indifference it seems to convey. It shows Mr. Tale-Yax lying face down for more than an hour on a sidewalk on 144th Street, near 88th Road, his life slipping away on the pavement as dozens of people walk past him.  Over an hour later, the paramedics arrive to find him lying in a pool of his blood.  They pronounce him dead at the scene.

I would be curious to interview the 2 dozen or more people who walked past Hugo as he lay there on the street Monday evening.  What did they notice?  Anything unusual or just another New York City scene?  If they did notice, what did they feel or think as they saw him?  Did they immediately assume he was simply another drunk passed out on the street corner?  Or they did see him as one of "those" illegal immigrants who shouldn't be here and doesn't deserve the City's help?  Did they simply not know he was in any trouble?  Did they perhaps naturally or even unconsciously ascribe the whole scene to a normal urban landscape - it's just the way it is here in the City?  Did they notice something wrong but assume someone else would call it in to 911?  Were they busily on their way to an appointment so they couldn't take the time to stop?  Were they afraid to get involved (after all, here in the City even good samaritans get hurt - this story is a good example of that danger)?

Why would over 24 people walk by a hurt and dying man without even stopping?  Makes you wonder, doesn't it.  What might you have done?

His brother Roland refused to watch the video when he was first told a tape existed, but found he could not avoid it on the local news. He was in shock, he said, that nobody helped his brother.

"Any animal that is hurt on the street, the city or anybody walking by goes to rescue it. But in this case, he saved this woman's life, and where was the conscience of the people around him?" Rolando Tale-Yax said.  "They have to realize that it could be a member of their family who is the next victim. … I just hope it doesn't happen again."

Perhaps this sad and tragic story provides some insight as to significant steps you and I can take to act more compassionately as a general life style.

One, change indifference.  Contrary to popular opinion that indifference is simply at the core of who we are as humans - it's evidence of our fallen nature - original sin - so we'll sometimes say, "Oh well, it's just the way we are - we're wired for indifference" - recent research shows otherwise.

In reality,  there is actually a biological basis for compassion.  There is a specific part of our brain that is wired for a compassion response.  Experiments with both mothers with their babies and people presented with images of victims of suffering showed similar neurological reactions.  The region of the brain associated with positive emotions literally lit up.  "This consistency strongly suggests that compassion isn't simply a fickle or irrational emotion, but rather an innate human response embedded into the folds of our brains," writes Dacher Keltner, PhD , a professor of psychology at the University of California, Berkeley.

The good news is that an attitude of indifference can therefore be radically changed.  It's not in fact who we are as humans.  We don't have to shrug our shoulders in a spirit of resignation.  We can do something about it.

Two, practice compassion.  Recent neuroscience studies suggest that positive emotions are less heritable—that is, less determined by our DNA—than the negative emotions. Other studies indicate that the brain structures involved in positive emotions like compassion are more "plastic"—subject to changes brought about by environmental input. So, as Dr. Keltner observes, "we might think about compassion as a biologically based skill or virtue, but not one that we either have or don't have. Instead, it's a trait that we can develop in an appropriate context."

This is why all of the major religious traditions in the world see compassion as a spiritual practice.  And each tradition has developed ways to practice this trait.  And here again, the latest neurobiological research shows that our bodies have a built in system to facilitate this practice.

For example, helping others triggers activity in the  portions of the brain that turn on when people receive rewards or experience pleasure.  Every compassionate act causes a pleasurable physiological response.  In addition, behaviors associated with compassionate love—warm smiles, friendly hand gestures, affirmative forward leans—actually produce more oxytocin in the body which is the hormone that promotes feelings of warmth and connection to others. This suggests compassion may be self-perpetuating: being compassionate causes a chemical reaction in the body that motivates us to be even more compassionate.  So the more we practice acts of kindness and compassion to others, the more we are rewarded for it and the easier the skill becomes.  Transformational spirituality is a practice, a discipline, a developing of ourselves into who we were designed to become.

Three, develop mindfulness.  As Mr. Tale-Yax's tragic story indicates, people are often so caught up in their own lives (for whatever reasons) that they don't notice or pay attention.  I've seen this in myself at times:  I'm walking along the city streets often caught up in my own internal world of thoughts, planning, projections, inner conversations, trying to get some place in a hurry, that I really am missing most of what's around me.  If someone would suddenly stop me and quiz me about what I had seen in the last 10 minutes, I would stutter and stammer somewhat incoherently (except about the details of my inner conversations).

One of the key spiritual practices that so many traditions suggest is mindfulness - the ability to step into the present moment - to be truly aware and conscious right now.  This, too, is a skill that needs to be cultivated.  Try walking somewhere and paying attention to what's around you - what do you hear, see, smell, feel?  Try more meditation at home - spend time sitting and becoming more aware of your self, your heart, your body.  Widen that attention to what's around you.  Really notice.

Four, use empathy.  Hugo's brother Roland made the painful observation that if people would simply recognize that the suffering person could be a member of their own family, they would probably respond differently - be more proactive with their compassion.  He's describing the use of empathy.  The power of empathy is the choice to put ourselves in other people's shoes, to enter their space for a moment, in order to try to understand what they're going through.  It's often begins by asking ourselves the simple question, How would I feel - what would I want - if I were in that situation right now?  But then it always goes beyond to the next question, What is that person feeling or really wanting or needing?  Though our personal responses might differ from that suffering person's, research indicates that the choice to enter into empathy actually helps to motivate altruistic behavior.

Four tangible and siumple ways to overcoming indifference and stepping into compassion.  I'm not completely sure how I would have responded last Monday evening had I been walking along the sidewalk where Huge Alfredo Tale-Yux lay dying.  I would hope I would've at least stopped to see if he was alright.  I really hope I would've also gone beyond that simple step and gotten whatever help I could for him to save his life.  Imagine living in a world where people practiced compassion so often that they became really adept at it - a world where indifference was an anomaly rather than the rule.  It's time to unleash the powerful biology of our lives and let our true wiring go wild.  For the Hugo Alfredo's of the world.