Christians are called to love one another.  Loving another requires understanding and sharing in the feelings of the other.  One needs to be vulnerable.  Lent is a time for self reflection that demands vulnerability.   Individualism conflicts with vulnerability and can prevent authentic membership in the community.    Christ is the model for being vulnerable.  The quest is to release those dark emotions in which vulnerability is a bad thing. 

Lent is the focus time for Christians.  Christianity at its core is about empathy and compassion.  Jesus empathized with humankind by becoming human.  He preached and demonstrated empathy and compassion for all.  In an ultimate act of empathy, he suffered and died as a human.  In turn, humans can empathize with that suffering and death.  During Lent Christians are asked to make a choice of how each can exercise empathy for others by experiencing some level of suffering.  By generating empathy for others, there is then a choice.  The rules by which people live their lives, morals and ethics, are the guide.  Empathy leads to compassion leads to action. 

Acting upon compassion means making an effort to alleviate suffering in the world.  That is love. 

I downloaded the above video from YouTube. 
It was made by a physician.  I found it on  His posts remind me of my time in residency at Lutheran Medical Center in Brooklyn, NY and they can be funny and even touching.  This one illustrates a point that is perhaps different than Dr. Cranquis intended.  The patient is complaining of being stuffy.  The doctor notices life threatening issues.
The doctor  focuses on the heart failure and diabetes and the patient doesn't understand.  I think the doc misses the point.  Even though the patient's concern seems unimportant, even irrelevant to the doctor, it is the patients concern.  It takes just a bit of empathy  and mental dexterity to address the patients concern and make the other conditions relevant to them.  When the patient feels understood they are much more likely to act.

I used this video to illustrate the point with a small group of doctors last week.
As if I planned it, the very next day one of them was presented with a very similar situation.  She remembered and handled it with sensitivity.  The patient had both problems addressed, felt heard, the doctor was a hero, and I got guru credit.

What does “old” mean?  For demographic purposes, the age of 65 has been chosen.  It was somewhat arbitrary, a combination of the choices made by the Reichstag and Otto von Bismark in 1881 Germany, a later adjustment, and what was decided in 1935 by the US Congress and the Roosevelt administration.  In reality, age is determined by genetics, stressors, environment, life style, and social standing.  Chronologic age is not nearly so important as biologic age, the accumulated wear and tear.

Ageism is defined as the prejudices and stereotypes based on characteristics shared by only a few members of the older population, yet are applied to all older people on the basis of their chronologic age.   It is quite clearly false.  I would compare it to racism and sexism. Chronologically higher age-number people are portrayed in negative, inaccurate, or stereotypical ways.  They are typically characterized as sick, feeble, opinionated, disagreeable, and living in the past.  They garner no respect and may be ignored, the belief being that they have nothing to offer and that their age defines their capability and roles.
They may be portrayed as gray haired, slow, wrinkly, and saggy.

Traditional culture tended to value and take instruction from the elderly.  They were a valued resource. The current youth oriented culture tends to view aging as an illness rather than a natural process.  

Each of us needs to come to terms with our own feelings regarding aging.
The only just approach is to assume every person is an individual with unique strengths, weaknesses, choice, and opportunities. Even a person that is very disabled with Alzheimer’s disease may have intact emotions.  Those feelings should be respected and people treated with dignity, no matter what the level of disability.

Compassion based meditation training has been shown to boost empathic accuracy.  This was proven out both by behavior and by functional MRI testing.

"It's an intriguing result, suggesting that a behavioral intervention could enhance a key aspect of empathy," says lead author Jennifer Mascaro, a post-doctoral fellow in anthropology at Emory University. "Previous research has shown that both children and adults who are better at reading the emotional expressions of others have better relationships."

The meditation protocol, known as Cognitively-Based Compassion Training, or CBCT, was developed at Emory by study co-author Lobsang Tenzin Negi, director of the Emory-Tibet Partnership. Although derived from ancient Tibetan Buddhist practices, the CBCT program is secular in content and presentation.

"The idea is that the feelings we have about people can be trained in optimal ways," Negi explains. "CBCT aims to condition one's mind to recognize how we are all inter-dependent, and that everybody desires to be happy and free from suffering at a deep level."

.J. S. Mascaro, J. K. Rilling, L. Tenzin Negi, C. L. Raison. Compassion meditation enhances empathic accuracy and related neural activity. Social Cognitive and Affective Neuroscience, 2012; DOI: 10.1093/scan/nss095
“People are often unreasonable and self-centered. Forgive them anyway.

If you are kind, people may accuse you of ulterior motives. Be kind anyway.

If you are honest, people may cheat you. Be honest anyway.

If you find happiness, people may be jealous. Be happy anyway.

The good you do today may be forgotten tomorrow. Do good anyway.

Give the world the best you have and it may never be enough. Give your best anyway.

For you see, in the end, it is between you and God. It was never between you and them anyway.”

Mother Teresa

Does empathy vary with age?  Yes.  A study done at the University of Michigan showed that empathy is highest in people in their middle years, peaking in the 6th decade of life.  Younger and older tended to have less empathy and be more self concerned.  Women tended to be more empathetic than men across ages.  There was no difference when ethnicity was compared.

J Gerontol B Psychol Sci Soc Sci (2013) 68 (2): 168-175. doi: 10.1093/geronb/gbs055 First published online: August 3, 2012
In engineering a product, there are two approaches/mindsets.  One engineer may solve the problem and have the user adapt to the solution or another engineer may solve the problem with a solution that fits with the user’s behavior.  The latter engineer is using empathy engineering.
A good example is the iPhone.  Apple tackled the problem of a very poor user interface that the prior phones all had.  Those engineers understood it well because they used those same phones.  The other manufacturers only responded after the iPhone came to market and their market share began to evaporate.  Apple’s reputation has really been built on empathy engineering.  It is true, in some cases the customers could not articulate what they wanted, but the revolutionary products came from understanding behavior and emotion.

Across the world, millions of babies die in the first week of life that could be saved with an incubator.  This has been known for a long time and incubators have been donated to developing countries.  The $30,000 incubators work well for a time but when they break, they cannot be repaired.  There are no parts and no money.  They are broken forever and babies die once again.

A company called Design That Matters (DTM)  asked ‘What equipment if any is easily maintained in the third world?’ The answer to that question is cars – more specifically Toyota cars. Most towns have garages with mechanics who can service and repair Toyotas. So DTM designed an incubator made out of car parts.  My point is that they created an empathetic connection to the hospital staff that had to maintain the incubators and to the parents of the babies in need.  They imagined the situation and saw the solution that was possible to the people in an area of limited resources.  Empathy engineering saves lives.

Engineers are less empathetic than healthcare workers.  That is stereotypical and proven out by research.

Advanced engineers, on the other hand, often take on leading positions in companies, where they have to be able to lead teams involving many co-workers. This requires both good communication skills and social competence. In today’s global business world you also need intercultural competence, an ability to communicate and collaborate with people from entirely different cultures.  Sometimes the failures can be spectacular.  There is a need for empathy.

When the students of computer engineering and applied physics that participated In this study are compared, when controlled for gender differences, it has been found that computer engineers are not vastly different in their empathic skills from healthcare workers.  The researchers have a theory about why: the computer engineering students were taught with PBL, problem-based learning, which is not the case for the applied physics students.  PBL forces collaboration and communication to solve problems.  The suggestion is that this training method can influence future empathy.

Chato Rasoal, Henrik Danielsson, Tomas Jungert. Empathy among students in engineering programmes. European Journal of Engineering Education, 2012; 37 (5)