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A Monk's Tale

How much empathy would you have for your torturer?

Most of us think we have a capacity for empathy but we're also aware of our limitations. When we're pushed to our breaking point, we're unable or unwilling to understand another person's point of view. At some point we say, "they had it coming."


When I served as the middle school head at Cathedral School for Boys in San Francisco, a Tibetan monk joined us in one of our weekly chapel services. His story of his capture and torture by the Chinese army was the most profound lesson in empathy I have ever received. As the monk told his tale, one of the boys asked what was going through his mind while he was being tortured. Through his interpreter, the monk shared that he meditated on the guard's pain, explaining that the guard must have been suffering a great pain to inflict such pain. That, my dear reader, is empathy. It doesn't excuse the violence, but it puts it into a broader context.


In an interview last week, I recounted a morning several years ago, when I couldn't stop crying. Another unarmed black man had just been killed by police. It was early summer and I had already lost count of how many lives had been lost that year. I had reached my limit and my grief simply overwhelmed me. And I was only able to slow my tears when I began to meditate on my own purpose. I was an educator and I would never lose my resolve to change the world no matter how bad things looked. My grief gave me strength.


On some days we feel hopeful, and on others, we shout out or shut down. And when we're pushed to our limits, we attack. Yet, hope is not a passive undertaking. It is the active resolve to make a change; but first, we must examine our motivations. We must meditate on our grief. We must understand grief's transformation to anger. And then we must heal grief's final incarnation—hate.


Markus Hunt is an educator, writer, speaker, and musician living in Aurora, Colorado.

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