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Empathy Springs Eternal

Jay Abraham, in the second part of the interview feature this month, reminds us that success comes when you are not looking for it. It comes to you as you are busy helping other people.

That’s the lesson we learn and relearn: the harder you work for others, the closer success sidles up to you. That thought ought to warm even the coldest heart, particularly now as spring wraps her arms around us.

But we know April is also the cruelest month. Snow sometimes falls on fragile shoots and some of history’s heartbreaking events clustered around April. In modern times we’ve had some terrible massacres in this month: the Virginia Tech shooting, the Oklahoma City bombing and Columbine.

The list is long with an astounding number of awful events and you sure don’t need me to dredge all that up. But I will mention the assassinations of April. Abraham Lincoln was shot on the 14th, just days after Gen. Robert E. Lee surrendered.

And, of course, April is usually the celebration of Easter, the commemoration of a holy sacrifice and rebirth. This month also saw the violent end of another who preached nonviolence, love in the face of hate and of reaching salvation through grace.

April 4 is the 45th anniversary of Martin Luther King Jr.’s assassination in one of the most difficult years of American history, 1968. That day was calm after a stormy night, when King seemed to foresee his fate much as Jesus did in the Garden of Gethsemane.

King spoke in a church on April 3 as thunder banged on the roof. His equal rights campaign had been battered by impatience from African-Americans eager for change. Many had called for violent reaction to the brutality brought against them in their daily lives and against their peaceful protests. King was in Memphis to support a sanitation strike, a strategic move that even some of his own advisors doubted. He was tired from travel, after his flight was delayed by a bomb threat. He was physically and emotionally exhausted from more than a decade of holding tight to a dream that sometimes only he could see.

Soon after King started speaking that night, people knew it wasn’t the usual address. He spoke about the sweep of history leading to that moment. King recalled when he was stabbed in the chest many years before, grateful that fate had allowed him to live and make a difference, particularly in delivering the historic I Have a Dream speech that moved a divided nation.

King spoke that night of the constant threats against him but said they no longer mattered because he had been to the mountaintop. The last few lines flew out to the stunned crowd.

Like anybody, I would like to live a long life. Longevity has its place. But I’m not concerned about that now. I just want to do God’s will. And He’s allowed me to go up to the mountain.

And I’ve looked over. And I’ve seen the Promised Land. I may not get there with you. But I want you to know tonight, that we, as a people, will get to the Promised Land!

And so I’m happy, tonight. I’m not worried about anything. I’m not fearing any man! Mine eyes have seen the glory of the coming of the Lord!

King was so spent after his last public utterance that he had to be helped back to his seat. The next day, another historic figure appealed to love and understanding after King was shot. Robert F. Kennedy was at a campaign stop in a dangerous part of Indianapolis, about to speak to a crowd unaware of what happened. Police advised against his appearing but he did anyway, facing anguished screams as he informed attendees of King’s death.

Kennedy reminded the crowd of King’s dedication to love defeating hate. Toward the end of his brief remarks, Kennedy said: “Let us dedicate ourselves to what the Greeks wrote so many years ago: to tame the savageness of man and make gentle the life of this world.”

That night, cities erupted in riots, except for Indianapolis.

Kennedy made a difference in that city, at that moment, with empathy. He recalled how he had lost his own brother to violence. The previous night in Memphis, King calmed the fright felt by people in that storm-battered church by sharing his own fear.

Empathy is at the core of Jay Abraham’s strategy of preeminence, which he describes in this month’s interview with our publisher, Paul Feldman. Many jaded readers might roll their eyes at that notion, thinking it’s kind of namby-pamby, completely unrelated to sales.

But empathy is the first step to making a difference in anything. It’s understanding the anxiety of a near-retiree scared of outliving her money, knowing the terror of your child’s first day in school, feeling the frustration of an assistant who can’t find his footing. Putting yourself in their place is necessary to providing guidance to a better place. It might not even be a matter of saying different things, but the same thing in different ways, maybe softened with kindness.

Just like in 1968 and in 1865, we live in bewildering and often cruel times. We have enough harshness and anger. We all need more people who “make gentle the life of this world.”

Shouldn’t that be you?

Steven A. Morelli is editor-in-chief for InsuranceNewsNet. He has more than 25 years of experience as a reporter and editor for newspapers, magazines and insurance periodicals. Steve may be reached at [email protected] Follow him on Twitter @INNSteveM. [email protected].

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