I think women are different from men, and I have a degree in biology that says I’m qualified to make that statement. So when I take a course in empathy — men are teaching women how to be empathic — it reminds me of the whole of written history where nothing was believable (say, empathy, though as a biologist I can’t prove this yet) until men believed it.

Now some men at the forefront of peaceful thinking believe if they can teach everyone to be empathic, then peace will arrive on earth. But most women were already empathic, and their empathy was a source of considerable pain. So they had to learn how to turn it off in order to live in this culture. In my case, I invented a method “shields up” to protect myself, lest other peoples’ emotions contaminate my own. Especially those that hurt. And shields down only when it was safe. And most women understand what I mean when I say this. Pema Chodron certainly must, though I have not asked her personally.

So here’s the thing. In a world that lately more and more glories in hatred and hostility (based in the truly stupid ideal of “winning”) — if you believe in empathy, which I certainly do, I can give you specific examples — then we (at least we women) do NOT need to grow a greater ability to experience the emotions of other people. What we need is more and better skills to understand the difference between our own emotions and theirs, and to protect ourselves from the painful ones that envelope us, so we can come out of our little protective shields and make the world real.

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