Monday, November 3, 2008

They said it couldn't be done

As I wrote in a recent post, we experience an empathy gap every time our actions go against the prevailing flow of our entourage or society. Keeping your cool in a situation where most people are losing theirs is an example. The reverse, seeing danger when most people are ‘keeping their cool’ or rather being blissfully ignorant is another. Think of Noah building the ark amidst the jeers of everyone in his community. Warren Buffet’s investment advice ‘Be fearful when others are greedy, be greedy when others are fearful’ is a clear example of living and prospering in the empathy gap.
For it is true to say that anyone who wishes to rise above the mass in any endeavour is going to have to become tolerably acquainted with the empathy gap. By definition, you don’t become exceptional by following the herd. By definition, wisdom is rare; if it were not rare we would not call it wisdom, we would call it ‘human nature’ or ‘common sense’.
So, when you have a sense that what everyone else is doing is not the way for you, honour it. Examine the truth, the motives behind this feeling, certainly, but be true to your own path, even (especially) if it is ‘a path less travelled’. You can have no regrets in doing this. God, the universe, the Tao will always ‘see you right’ if your path is based on a best-effort attempt at doing the right thing. And the gods always smile on the brave.
Even in small things our ‘nerve’ or convictions are constantly tested. For example, I once asked my son to help me move a plant that had graduated to small tree status. You must be kidding, he protested. You won’t be able to get it out; it will die from loss of roots etc. My son and I were experiencing a minor empathy gap. Needless to say, we got it out, we replanted it and it didn’t die. And I treated my son (again) to one of my ‘famous’ lines:

They said it couldn’t be done. They said he was a fool. They were wrong.

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Discover The Tale of Genji, the 11th Century classic of Japan (click image)

Discover The Tale of Genji, the 11th Century classic of Japan (click image)
Kiyomizudera Temple has a large veranda looking out over Kyoto and beyond