Inspiration #9 : What You Wish to Experience, Provide For Another

“Empathy is about finding echoes of another person in yourself.” –Mohsin Hamid

09-anonymous-kindness-inverseI first conceived of this week’s mission as a kindness “assignment” back in September, 2001. I was offering an online version of my original kindness class, what I call “The Practice of Kindness.” Per usual, the first week’s assignment was to do something kind for yourself. A couple of days after sending out that assignment, the attacks of September 11th took place.

So here I was, trying to facilitate an online class on the subject of kindness for dozens of people all over the world. That week and those that followed were filled with many confusing emotions, some of them even at odds with each other. Much for myself, I created this theme back then to give ME something concrete to do that honored the kind of response I wanted to have to the attacks of September 11th.

I’ve offered this mission a handful of times in my kindness classes since then. Of all the themes I’ve offered, it has generated the most confusion, maybe even angst, among kindness class participants. One past participant voiced her confusion this way, “So, I have found this homework puzzling. What do I want… World peace? If I could give that I would be going to Oslo. $10,000? If I could give that, I wouldn’t want it myself.”

09b-anonymous-kindnessI offer her comments here to provide a voice for any of you who may be feeling the same way now. In response, I encourage you to look for other interpretations of the mission, perhaps those that may sound simple or even superficial. For instance, if you want world peace, providing a moment of peace for someone contributes to world peace. And if you want to experience wealth in monetary terms, giving a child a small amount of money may achieve the same thing $10,000 would achieve for an adult.

Lastly, to see the concept of this week’s mission spread throughout a community, take a look at this video about the residents Gander, Newfoundland in Canada who found themselves hosting thousands of stranded airline passengers beginning on September 11, 2001.

And if you have an interpretation of this mission that you’re willing to share, I’d love to hear about it.


  1. RE: The Golden Rule. My daughter recently turned me on to your posts, so forgive if you have dealt with this issue already. The Golden Rule (from Matthew 7:12 as well as other religious traditions) talks about treating others as you want to be treated. After hiring and managing more than 100 employees over a career, I used the “Platinum Rule,” which says “treat others as THEY WANT to be treated.” The Goldern Rule, while well intentioned, is to self-centered. We need to be empathetic enough to treat others well beyond our own desires, instead making sure through appropriate inquiry to treat them as they want to be treated. — Dave in Seattle

  2. “Too self centered” – sorry for the typo. The problem with the Golden Rule, again while it’s general purpose is well-intentioned, is that it implies that what WE want is the same as what ALL OTHERS want. On a basic level (human dignitiy, basic needs, etc.) that might be true, but at the individual-to-individual level for “superficial” kindnesses, we need to be careful. Saying “atta girl” or “well done” to a project team member in a meeting or via email might seem like a positive thing to you, the team’s manager, but it might not be interpreted the same by the person you are trying to honor. Be careful here: each individual requires respect to figure out what he or she would like, rather than personalizing all compliments based on what you would like. Just a suggestion: follow the Platinum Rule whenever you can. — Dave in Seattle

    1. Hey Dave – Thanks so much for taking the time to share your thoughts with me and others here. I greatly appreciate the demonstration of engagement. Regarding your comments, I’m not sure if you are interpreting this week’s mission (and my suggestions about it) to be a variation of employing the Golden Rule. If so, that’s not necessarily a bad thing, but it’s really not what I have in mind. Yes, the idea is related to a belief that we all want/need basically the same things. But the mission attempts to go beyond that by encouraging us to find someone who genuinely does need/want something that we also need/want, AND to choose something that in some way we can provide the other. In other words, to fully engage in this mission in the way it is intended is to first identify something you want in life, then look for someone else who you think also would benefit from this thing, whatever it is. Having done that, the idea then is to provide that person this thing in some way that you can. It need not be a huge form; in fact, I think the way to get the most out of this exercise is to find a way to provide the thing in a small way. My experience with this is when I do it, not only does the other person get to experience something they want/need, but I get something I want/need, too. In providing it in a small dose, an expanding element is somehow activated that allows me (and maybe others) to experience it. Hope this is useful. Thanks again! –Andy

  3. I guess I need to reiterate my concern. As priveleged people with enough resources to spend time following such blogs, we need to be extremely careful to “give” to others in culturally- and class-conscious ways. We need to check in with individuals to confirm that what WE think they want, THEY truly would accept as a positive gift. That’s all I’m saying. Apply the Platinum Rule, please, whenever you can. Don’t make assumptions that what you want, even something small, is the same as what someone else wants. Check in, make sure, THEN feel free to give away….. These comments come from years of experience hiring and managing a culturally-diverse workplace. I found that often what I thought was a small expression of support to a colleague might not be what that person wants. The key is to check in wiith the individual first to confirm that what you think willl be perceived as a positive gesture will in fact be interpreted as such by the other person. Or not, upon which we need to modify our approach. The more we think in these terms, the more sensitive and multicultural we become. We should all aspire to such sensitivity given our challenging political times. — Dave in Seattle

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