After a long week, I'm getting back into the world with a personal post about bringing people together through empathy. There's plenty of news to blog about tomorrow!
As you all know, my father recently died after a one-year battle with bladder cancer. Many thanks to everyone for your thoughts and support, it's meant a great deal to me and my family. What you may not know, is that my parents (and most of my family) are conservative (biconceptual on some issues) and live in Brookfield - or Mordor as some of us progressives originally from Waukesha County call it. The night he died, my mom and I were up very late talking about what he wanted for a service, and I started thinking about what I would say on behalf of our family. Especially to a largely conservative group of people at their "mega-church" in lake country. I wanted to celebrate my dad's life, while evoking the idea that empathy is critical to our well-being and communities. I also had to avoid sounding overtly political.
I've decided to share my message with all of you in this blog. It turned out to get quite the warm, positive response from the people at the service, and I believe it shows how we can get people in the progressive, empathetic frame (thereby strengthening it and weakening the conservative, authoritarian) - even if they are predominantly conservative. This can translate into progressive ideas about countless issues, after we get them into their empathetic frame. Here it is - I'm looking forward to your thoughts and comments:
"On Saturday night, after dad (Bob) had passed, mom and I were up very late talking about what he wanted for this service. “A celebration of life” is what he wanted, she said. The idea of a “celebration of life” really got me thinking about what to say about that idea, and my dad, and how I could do justice to him in about 5 minutes – my mom made sure I was aware of my time limit. After all, “life” is wonderful, and messy, and difficult. Everyone knows it’s full of good times, as well as a lot of difficult ones, and there is no one who leads a perfect life, or whose life even turns out the way they expected. Life is complex and unpredictable.
So yesterday, after we met with Pastor Tom to plan the service, Pastor Aaron introduced himself to me. My brother Jon, he, and I were talking – and Pastor Aaron said something that really resonated. He said that Bob could always connect with people through telling stories from his life experiences. That really hit me – because Pastor Aaron was relating my dad’s ability to truly empathize and connect with people. And I believe that is what we celebrate tonight – our common values and connections we share through, and because of Bob.
This idea of connections goes to the heart of what makes us human. It is also something we need a great deal more of in our world today. It’s based on “empathy” – and it is something I learned from my parents. And I believe it’s the reason we all come together to “celebrate life”. Empathy is caring for others equally as yourself – it’s the embodiment of “The Golden Rule”, a moral principle which is found in some form in every religion around the world.
Caring for others and your community was something my dad lived. As kids, Jon and I experienced it through all the time our dad spent with us at all of our activities, and how he set an example for us in those activities. We learned caring for others at the sporting events he served as a coach for us AND our friends and neighbors; as well as the hundreds of games he attended as a spectator through high school and at Lakeland college for my brother – he didn’t miss a game. And the hundreds of concerts and recitals for both of us through high school, and for me in college at UW-Madison – he didn’t miss a concert – not even for our pretty mediocre high school garage bands.
More recently, he even took time to drive to Madison, just to be in attendance at press events I held to release new public policy research. It always struck me that even though we didn’t really agree on our politics, as mom can attest to, that he was always there, and we always could agree that the most important thing was for us to always live by The Golden Rule, and care for others as ourselves. That is why he took such great pride and joy in seeing my brother and I grow up – even through the rollercoaster ride and challenges. That is why he was always there for his grandchildren, taking great joy in seeing them grow up. Because he cared (and still cares) for all of us, knowing that it makes our lives and community better.
I believe that is why we gather tonight, not just to celebrate Bob’s life – but all of our connected lives together. Because somewhere along the line, he cared for you, so you are here to show your empathy not just for him, but for everyone around you tonight. So tonight, join me in reflecting and thinking about how at one time or another dad (or Bob) cared for you, how you care for him and everyone here tonight, and how that embodies the idea of “celebrating life.” Most importantly, consider how this simple idea makes our world a better place and carry it forward in your own lives. Bob would be happy knowing that is his legacy."
Tomorrow - back to current events and the progressive cognitive frame!