Book Review: The Power of Kindness

The Power of Kindness: Why Empathy Is Essential in Everyday Life

Author:Brian Goldman, MD

Publisher:HarperCollins Publishers Ltd

309 pages, including Acknowledgements and Index, hardcover

ISBN: 978-1-44345-106-2

Reviewed by Rev. Garth Wehrfritz-Hanson

Dr. Brian Goldman has been an emergency room physician for about 35 years, and since 2007, the host of “White Coat, Black Art,” a multi-award-winning show on CBC Radio.

Dr. Goldman begins this volume by asking: “Am I a kind soul?” (p.1) He admits that sometimes he was more worried about mistakes he may or may not have made in his medical practice than whether he was a kind doctor to his patients. He was also preoccupied with being a responsible husband and parent, rather than focussing on kindness per se.

He makes the distinction between sympathy and empathy; describes three types of empathy—emotional, cognitive, and compassion; looks at the origin of the word kindness; and offers several examples of unkindness and kindness. “Linguists say “kindness” comes from the Old English word cynd,which refers to kinship, as in friends who are “two of a kind.” (p. 9)

Dr. Goldman was impressed by the kindness shown him on Good Friday in 2016. He planned on travelling to Brazil for some interviews for this book when he realized that he needed a tourist visa. A Toronto consular office staff person; in an act of kindness agreed to process his application in order that he could catch his flight to Brazil.

Another word he describes in relation to kindness is synchrony,meaning: “a simultaneous action or occurrence.” (p. 10) An example he cites is newborn babies imitating the facial expressions of their parents.

The author notes that when someone experiences kindness from another person; they see the kind person as being similar to themselves; and they, in turn, are more likely to show kindness to others as well. From a faith perspective, I think this is one of the benefits of “the Golden Rule,” in Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount: “In everything do to others as you would have them do to you; for this is the law and the prophets.” (Matthew 7:12)

In his quest to learn more about kindness and empathy, Dr. Goldman decided to get a fMRI, and become a participant in research measuring empathic resonance among health care professionals. Those who have worked as health care professionals for a long time tend to underestimate the pain of others. Researchers are not sure why this is the case.

Neuroscientists believe that humans are hard-wired to be empathic and kind.” (p. 21) However, it’s difficult to empathize when parts of the brain are not functioning properly.

Tactile empathy happens when the same part of the brain is activated when someone touches another person; and when someone else observes another being touched.

Health care professionals may have an empathy off-switch to distance themselves from their patients’ pain in order to do what is necessary medically—e.g. surgery on a patient.

According to some experts, psychopaths and narcissists are on the rise; and they can utilize cognitive empathy to manipulate people in harmful, even evil ways.

In his chapter, “The Donut Shop,” Dr. Goldman describes the empathy of Mark Wafer, who owns a few Tim Hortons restaurants and is deaf. Because he experienced bullying and discrimination as a deaf person; Mark is more empathic toward people with disabilities like Clint Sparling. Clint has Down syndrome, and Mark hired him; and over the years he has become one of Mark’s most valuable employees. Clint has done exceptionally well; and he lives a full, meaningful life. Now 20 percent of Mark’s employees are disabled.

Dr. Goldman tells of a UN-funded virtual reality film Clouds over Sidra. Sidra is a 12-year-old Syrian refugee girl, living in a refugee camp in Jordan. The film shows how Sidra lives in the camp and Dr. Goldman discovered—as did others who have watched the film—that it succeeds in making viewers feel empathy. It has also served as a successful fundraiser for refugees resettling in countries like Canada.

There are some who believe that virtual reality (VR) creates empathy concerning social justice issues—others are more sceptical. VR may also help overcome phobias of various kinds. In Canada, a VR project called Embodying Empathy is designed to help those who attended residential schools; as well as for non-Indigenous people to experience what residential schools were like; and to help the non-Indigenous people to be more empathic toward Indigenous people suffering from their experiences in residential schools.

During his trip to Brazil, Dr. Goldman accompanied a woman in São Paulo who offers empathy and friendship to the homeless. She even created a Facebook page to showcase the poems of a street poet named Raimundo. She also played a role in uniting Raimundo with his family again after many years.

In a trip to Japan, Dr. Goldman visited roboticists and explored how robots provide health care for seniors. The cost of such robots is likely prohibitive for many—20 million yen or $236,000 Canadian. Moreover, robots have not been perfected to the extent that they may not work with seniors who have various kinds of injuries and disabilities.

Dr. Goldman interviews Mary Gordon, the founder of ROE—the Roots of Empathy program in schools, designed to prevent aggression and bullying. Mary Gordon learned empathy at an early age from her parents. This program has made a difference for many students.

It is interesting that Dr. Goldman suggests being kind and expressing empathy to someone you can’t stand. From a faith perspective, that is what Jesus taught and practiced in loving one’s enemies and blessing those who curse you.

Dr. Goldman visits a senior’s care home for people with dementia; and observes how health care staff show empathy for residents with dementia by employing the technique of Validation-mirroring the reality of the residents; rather than trying to correct them and bring them into the staff’s reality. Naomi Feil is credited with introducing Validation for people with dementia. Dr. Goldman describes her as “the soul whisperer” because of her gifts and expertise in employing Validation with people who have dementia. When Feil employs the method of Validation, she is able to share an incredible kindness and empathy with those having dementia.

Feil believes Validation is the best method in caring for those with dementia; rather than Redirection, Diversion or telling a therapeutic lie. Goldman shares several anecdotes as told by health care staff how employing the method of Validation made a huge difference for dementia residents. For example, residents were able to resolve anger and other issues, and be at peace. They too were able to express empathy with other dementia residents.

In his final chapter, “Epiphany,” Dr. Goldman reviews the results of his fMRI with Philip Jackson. After asking Jackson several questions about his empathy tests; Jackson tells Dr. Goldman the clearestway to learn about his empathy is to interact more with people he knows best. So, Dr. Goldman speaks with his partner Tamara Broder, whom he believes is a very empathic person. She tells Dr. Goldman: “I think you’re one of the most empathic people I know.” (p. 292) She says he has the ability to be in someone else’s shoes and imagine what they are feeling.

Some of us are born extraordinarily kind. But most get there only after experiencing pain and then learning from it.” (p. 295)

Dr. Goldman, after all of his research and interviews, comes to realize that to be a person of empathy, one has to be empathic toward oneself; to be a kind person, one has to be kind to oneself. In other words, as Jews and Christians believe, teach and endeavour to live: Love your neighbour as you love yourself.

One critique I have of this otherwise most accessible and informative volume is Dr. Goldman’s failure to mention the divine in relation to empathy and kindness. As a person of faith, I believe that both empathy and kindness originate from God. Indeed, kindness is listed by the apostle Paul as one of the fruit of the Holy Spirit in Galatians 5:22.

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Brief thoughts on Hosea 2:23-Names

Brief thoughts on Hosea 2:23-Names

ירחמו Pitied

האנשים שלי My people
In my devotions this morning, one of the texts I read was Hosea 
2:14-23. The last verse, 23, in particular lept out at me. It 
reminded me of the importance of names. Indeed, the prophet 
Hosea, who was active in the eight century BCE, employs the 
names of people to symbolize the relationship between God and 
Israel. The name Hosea in Hebrew means salvation. This prophet 
then was a proclaimer of God’s message of salvation for God’s 
people.
   Like most of the Israelite prophets, God called them to 
proclaim messages of warning and judgement as well as promise 
and hope. The prophets most likely did not win any popularity 
contests! 
   During the time that Hosea was active as a prophet, the 
Israelites were highly attracted to the Canaanite gods and the 
worship rituals associated with them—which were, of course in 
violation of the First Commandment, and other Commandments 
as well. 
   Another temptation amongst the leaders of the Israelites was 
to form alliances with the Assyrians and Egyptians, for military 
protection and security. However, God was not pleased with such 
political and military alliances. Rather, God sees such alliances as 
a lack of faith/trust in him. 
   Hosea in chapter two, verse twenty-three speaks a prophetic 
word of promise and hope for the Israelites in the future. The 
name of Hosea’s child Lo-ruhamah, which means “not pitied,” will 
be changed to “I will have pity.” In other words, Israel’s suffering 
and judgement due to their unfaithfulness to God and God’s 
covenant will be reversed. God’s grace and mercy shall prevail in 
a renewed covenant relationship with God and God’s people. The 
name change of this child is a living symbol then of God’s grace, 
mercy and lovingkindness. 
   The same is true in the case of the child named Lo-ammi, 
which means “Not my people.” Lo-ammi shall be given the name 
“You are my people” as a living symbol of God’s renewed 
covenant relationship with the Israelites. 
   Names are extremely important. What is your name? What 
does it mean for you as you live your life? What might your name 
mean in relationship with God and with other people? Does your 
name reveal the grace, mercy and lovingkindness that God 
desires for everyone? Hopefully it will be a sign, a symbol of 
God’s presence and blessing in your life as well as in the lives 
of others. 

 

The New Year and brief thoughts on Joshua 24:1-15

Open Bible-public domain

During my first devotion-time in this New Year, I read Joshua 24:1-15. The pericope is a familiar one to many. Joshua gathered the tribes of Israel for a solemn, covenant renewal ceremony. He highlighted God’s saving activity among the Israelites, beginning with Abraham and his descendants, through to the giving of the Promised Land. According to Joshua, it is in the act of remembering God’s saving activity in the past that Israel is graced with the opportunity to respond to God by putting away other gods and renewing the covenant with God by serving him.

The pericope is a significant one for this first day of the new year. This day affords us the opportunity to remember God’s saving activity in our lives over the course of this past year. In remembering what God has done for us, we are free to respond with a renewed commitment to serve God in 2019.

A renewed commitment to serve God each day in the ordinary activities of our lives might involve something as simple as the following example: Instead of complaining to God about the inclement, cold, snowy weather; give God thanks that you are blessed with health to shovel the snow off the sidewalk—thus giving you the opportunity to exercise after a large dinner on New Year’s eve.

Our recent visit to U.K. and France churches

Last month we went on a cruise to the U.K. and France. Here are some photos of the churches that we visited.  There were other churches too, which are not included in this post.

Our first port of call was Guernsey Island, one of the Channel Islands. The photo below is a parish church at St Peter Port, close to the harbour.

Guernsey Island church

The next port of call was Cobh and Cork, Ireland. This is St Colman’s Church in Cobh.

St Colman’s, Cobh, Ireland

Our next port of call was Dublin. The city has a lot of pubs, some say there’s a pub on almost every corner. However, we were more interested in the churches, two in particular, both cathedrals. The first one we visited was St Patrick’s Cathedral. This cathedral edifice dates back to the 12th century, however the tradition of St Patrick establishing a church here and using a nearby well for baptisms, dates back to his time-the 4th and 5th centuries. Author of Gulliver’s Travels, Jonathan Swift was the dean of this cathedral in the 18th century for 30 years, and was apparently noted for his long sermons, during which some parishioners apparently fell asleep.

St Patrick’s, Dublin

Our next stop was Christ Church Cathedral, Dublin. St Patrick’s Cathedral is the nation’s cathedral, whereas Christ Church is Dublin’s cathedral.

Christ Church, Dublin

 

 

 

Our next port of call was Belfast, Northern Ireland, where we enjoyed our own walking tour of several downtown churches. This is First Presbyterian Church, Belfast, which we almost walked past, since it’s exterior didn’t at first register with us that it is a church. It had some lovely stained glass windows inside.

First Presbyterian, Belfast

Our next stop was St Anne’s Church, Belfast. The large Celtic Cross on the side of the church really stands out.

St Anne’s, Belfast

St Anne’s, Belfast – side view

Our next port of call was Glasgow, Scotland, where we visited Glasgow Cathedral, associated with one St Mungo; who it was believed established a wooden church on this site back in the 6th century. The cathedral is a majestic edifice, dating back to the 12th century.

Glasgow Cathedral

Glasgow Cathedral

Our last port of call in Scotland was Edinburgh, where we visited St Giles Cathedral. We were impressed by the beautiful stained glass windows, which depict gospel stories of the life of Jesus as well as some of the history associated with Edinburgh and Scotland.

St Giles Cathedral, Edinburgh

Our last port of call was France, where we visited Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris. This magnificent Gothic structure is one of the largest cathedrals I’ve visited, and it dates back to the 12th century. Today a massive renovation is underway. The stained glass windows are absolutely breath-taking, and inspire awe and wonder.

Notre Dame Cathedral, Paris

I hope you enjoyed this post of some of the churches we visited on our recent cruise.

 

 

Book Review: Finding God At Harvard: Spiritual Journeys Of Thinking Christians

Finding God At Harvard: Spiritual Journeys Of Thinking Christians

Author: Kelly Monroe Kullberg, Editor

Publisher: Grand Rapids, Michigan: Zondervan Publishing House, A Division of HarperCollins Publishers

360 pages + Index, ISBN: 0-310-21922-1

Reviewed by Rev. Garth Wehrfritz-Hanson

Editor, Kelly Monroe Kullberg, served Harvard graduate students as a chaplain and started the Harvard Veritas Forum, which inspired the publication of this volume.

The work contains ten chapters and a concluding Epilogue: A Taste of New Wine. Each of the chapters addresses a particular subject and is written by students and professors studying or teaching in that field. The format of each chapter is as follows: A list of authors and titles of each essay in the chapter, one or more quotations complementing the chapter’s subject matter, a brief introduction to each author, followed by his or her essay.

The wide array of subjects and authors makes for an interesting, informative and, on occasion, inspiring read. Although most of the authors either attended or taught at Harvard, not everyone did—for example; two of the most prophetic and challenging essays are by Mother Teresa and Alexandr Solzhenitsyn. Solzhenitsyn’s was an address he gave at Harvard in 1978; the year Harvard awarded him a doctorate in literature. Here are a couple of quotes, the first one is a sober reminder that freedom is not always what it seems on the surface: “Mere freedom does not in the least solve all the problems of human life—and it even adds a number of new ones.” (p. 99) The second one takes aim at the consequences of the West’s emphasis on human rights: “The West has succeeded in truly enforcing human rights, but our sense of responsibility to God and society has grown dimmer and dimmer.” (p. 100) Mother Teresa addressed the 1982 Class Day exercises at Harvard College. One of the most inspiring quotes in this volume is by Mother Teresa on love: “For God, it is not how much we give but how much love we put in the giving. That love begins at home, right here.” (p. 317)

To further the interest of would-be readers of this work, here are a few more quotes from various authors: In “My Search for the Historical Jesus,” Todd Lake makes an excellent point concerning an historically erroneous statement in the Koran concerning the crucifixion of Jesus: “The fourth sura of the Koran, for example, suggests that someone else was crucified in Jesus’ stead. However, this conjecture was written six centuries after the eyewitness accounts in the four Gospels, much too late to have any historical value.” (p. 45)

In an excellent essay by a seasoned professor of medicine at Harvard, Armand Nicholi Jr., “Hope in a Secular Age,” the author cites several research projects of depressed open-heart patients and their either high likelihood of not surviving or the more lengthy recovery period than those who have hope. “A noted physiologist, Dr. Harold G. Wolf, writes: “Hope, like faith and a purpose in life is medicinal. This is not a statement of belief but a conclusion proved by meticulously controlled scientific experiments.” (p. 118) As a chaplain and pastor, I definitely agree with this conclusion.

Ruth Goodwin, after seeing the magnitude of human suffering in Ethiopia, in her essay, “In Sorrow, Joy,” writes: “I became angry. I became angry because only a few care enough about the suffering of others for it to make a difference in their lives. Some appreciate the agony and injustice many have to endure in this world; few act to change it.” (pp. 220-221) However, she eventually realized that life cannot be motivated by anger; rather, it is Christ’s love that gives life and heals. “I am no longer angry, but I still grieve over suffering and injustice. I now know, however, that it is only love which will ultimately overcome it.” (p. 221)

Elizabeth Dole, reflecting on the life and purpose of Esther’s divine calling, in her essay, “Crisis and Faith,” finds instructive parallels in her life: “Yes, the story of Esther is actually a story of dependence. It is a story not about the triumph of a man or a woman but the triumph of God. He is the real hero of this story. And in the same way, I have come to realize there can be only one hero in my story, too: God in Jesus Christ.” (p. 243)

In her “Epilogue: A Taste Of New Wine,” editor Kelly Monroe Kullberg provides an outline of the origins of this volume as well as that of “The Harvard Veritas Forum,” and the struggles on her own journey of faith in the Harvard Divinity School. “Ironically, all seemed tolerated except that for which Harvard College was founded—Truth for Christ and the Church.” (p. 248) Christians are definitely up for the challenge, and can survive and thrive in an intellectual environment like Harvard.

I recommend this volume as a worthwhile read for atheists, agnostics, seekers and people of faith. By way of one wee closing critique, I don’t know who decided or how the process worked in deciding the title of this book—however I adamantly disagree with it. God is The One who finds us, not the other way round!

 

 

Today-January 27, 2018 is Holocaust Remembrance Day

Yad Vashem Museum, Jerusalem, Israel

I took this photo in 2014, when we visited this museum. It was a most moving and informative experience.

Today is Yom HaShoah-Holocaust Remembrance Day. A day to remember the millions of Jewish people across Europe who perished in the concentration camps of the Nazis. A day to listen to those survivors who are still bearing witness to their experiences in the face of the evils of the Shoah. A day to strengthen our resolve to end all hatred and anti-Semitism. A day to realize that no matter what colour our skin may be, what country we were born in and now live in, what language we speak, God is the Creator of us all, loves us all, and in response to this love, calls and gifts us to love one another. A day to pray to God to help us all to continue to grow in this love in thought, word and action.

If there is a Holocaust Remembrance Day Service or event in your community, I encourage you to attend.

Christmas and New Year Greetings

Last night we had the privilege of attending G.F. Handel’s Messiah, with members of the Red Deer Symphony Orchestra and the Rosa Barocca – Chorus & Baroque Orchestra, directed and conducted by Claude Lapalme. The Peter and Jeanne Lougheed Performing Arts Centre concert hall was filled to capacity—and for good reason, almost three hours of ‘heaven on earth’ music, celebrating the Incarnation, life, death and resurrection of Jesus the Messiah.

I have seen Handel’s Messiah several times, and heard it on record, cassette and CD a host of times—yet I never get bored or tired of it. There’s always something beautiful about it that so movingly proclaims ‘the holy’ and fills one for an all-too-brief time with the joy, love and peace of God in the midst of a troubled and all-too-often evil world that would rob us of every God-given gift. I wonder what would happen if every human being in this world—regardless of how well or how poor they could sing or play—would sing and play Handel’s Messiah together, if the intercession in the Lord’s Prayer “your kingdom come, your will be done on earth as in heaven,” would become more incarnate in and through the music to such a profound extent that all hatred, terrorism and war would vanish forever.

This time round, Isaiah’s prophecy in chapter nine, verse six, keeps playing in my head: “For a child has been born for us, a son given to us; authority rests upon his shoulders; and he is named Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of peace.” (NRSV) He is the one who is coming to set all things, all peoples, right with the world.

Here is Sir Colin Davis and the London Symphony Orchestra with the Tenebrae Choir. I love some of the expressions on Colin’s face, he seems captivated by the joy of this marvelous music.

Wishing all of you, my readers, a very blessed Christmas and Happy New Year!