As we count our blessings in the final months of 2018, a year marked by anger, hatred and fear of others, I contemplate things for which I am most thankful.

I am fortunate to have a comfortable home, family, friends, two precious pets and a job, but have concluded I am most grateful for things less tangible, such as the ability to sympathize and feel empathy.

When, for instance, I hear derogatory comments made about women, men and children fleeing violence to seek a safer life, fellow humans persecuted for the color of their skin, the religion they practice, or whom they choose to love, I am deeply troubled.

I find myself wanting to know more about those who hate, criticize and persecute: where they were educated, what their childhoods were like, how and why they learned to put themselves first, and what drives them to want to deprive others of what they have and enjoy.

We all likely know people who say they are not racist, but their words and actions seem to indicate otherwise. There are those who insist they are not misogynistic, for instance, yet they regard women with contempt.

Particularly in these uncertain times, I am thankful I was born of parents who treated others with respect, were generous to those less fortunate, and were sympathetic and empathetic with those who were hurting.

I am grateful for the teachers in my elementary and secondary schools who taught tolerance, humanity and the importance of understanding the history of civil rights.

I feel fortunate that I was sent to Sunday school and church, where people were kind and modeled charity, goodness and grace and, importantly, treating others as we would want to be treated.

Those are big words, sympathy, empathy, compassion.

We see them practiced every day by firefighters who rush into burning buildings and comfort accident victims; law enforcement officers who tend to the homeless, embrace shut-ins and work to find treatment for those addicted to opioids; hospice volunteers who care for the sick and dying.

When tragedy hits — and those of us who have lived for any length of time have experienced it — material possessions mean nothing. At the end of the road, the love of friends and family is all that matters.

I remember as a sophomore in college debating with a friend, long into the night, about what was warped in the world and why, and what was needed to change it for the better.

After hours of discussion, we reached the conclusion that it all boiled down to education — that education was paramount and that people’s lives could change for the better, the world would change for the better — if we all had equal access to education and therefore the opportunity to thrive and live fulfilling lives.

And so I think about the importance of a quality education in ensuring we have the ability to see the forest for the trees, to see with a critical eye when someone comes around promising us the world, when in fact, he or she is really a snake oil salesman.

All of which is to say, I’m grateful for the education I’ve received through school, work and experience to be able to see the whole, clear picture: that those of us whose tendency it is to want to feed the hungry, clothe the poor, support the disenfranchised and embrace those fleeing violence are spot on.

We can be thankful that, despite rhetoric to the contrary pounding the airwaves, we have the ability to discern right from wrong.

And that we are blessed with the gift of empathy.

Amy Calder has been a Morning Sentinel reporter for 30 years. Her column appears here Mondays. She may be reached at [email protected]. For previous Reporting Aside columns, go to centralmaine.com.


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