“The central journey of modern life is moving self to service.”
One of my former students is a Rhodes Scholar. While studying at Oxford, Joanna attended two retreats with her fellow Rhodies. The first was called Service and Leadership. The second was Building a Life of Meaning, Purpose and Balance. I can only imagine what it was like to participate in such conversations over high tea at Rhodes House.
When Joanna got back to Canada, she gifted me with a copy of the reading packets used at both retreats. It was full of intellectual candy. Listed under the session Conflicts between Work, Life and Duty was a short article by American cultural commentator David Brooks called The Moral Bucket List, published on April 11, 2015 by The New York Times.
A year ago, I wrote to Brooks after watching his TED talk The lies our culture tells us about what matters – and a better way to live. I felt compelled to let him know how much his words touched me. And with nothing to lose, I also asked him to write a short testimonial blurb for my book Purposeful Empathy. It was a long shot and I didn’t get a reply, but I don’t hold it against him. I’m sure he was busy writing a weekly column, doing his Friday PBS show and serving as Director of Weave: The Social Fabric Project, a new initiative launched by the Aspen Institute.
More about that in a minute. First, I want to share a few excerpts from his Times piece:
“About once a month I run across a person who radiates an inner light.”
“When I meet such a person it brightens my whole day.”
“A few years ago I realized that I wanted to be a bit more like those people.”
“I set out to discover how those deeply good people got that way.”
“I came to the conclusion that wonderful people are made, not born – that the people I admired had achieved an unshakeable inner virtue, built slowly from specific moral and spiritual accomplishments.”
“People on the road to inner light do not find their vocations by asking, what do I want from life? They ask, what is life asking of me? How can I match my intrinsic talent with one of the world’s deep needs?”
Brooks calls these people weavers, and according to his initiative, “Weaving is a way of life and a state of mind, not a set of actions. It’s about the spirit of caring you bring to each interaction with someone else.”
As he explains in an interview: “Our Weave team will go into a town and ask, “Who is trusted here?” Immediately people start reeling off names of folks who are really good at building community and deepening relationships. Sometimes the people they mention work at a suicide hotline or a mentoring program. Sometimes they run a coffee shop where everybody feels at home… Whatever they do, they lead with love.”
Given my line of work I am grateful I get to meet a lot of weavers. For example, Rachel Kiddell-Monroe has spent her career as a humanitarian and is now focused on COVID-19 relief through See Change. Dr. Parag Mankeekar is scaling an online simulator that seeks to develop empathy in people through gamification called RealLives. Zoe Weil is wholly committed to creating a brigade of “solutionaries” at the Institute of Humane Education.
Of course, I’m convinced they got that way because they practice purposeful empathy, so in my next blog, I’ll be unveiling a model inspired by the Japanese Ikigai that illustrates how to start integrating or amplifying purposeful empathy in your life. In the meantime, let me leave you with a question for reflection:
Of course, I’m convinced they became weavers by practicing purposeful empathy. That’s why in my book, Purposeful Empathy, I unveil a model that illustrates how to integrate or amplify purposeful empathy in your life, family, community and organization.
Let me leave you with a question for reflection:
Are you harnessing your time, talents and treasure to make the world a better place?
If yes, that’s great. You’re flexing what Brooks calls your eulogy virtues, as opposed to your resume virtues. If not, please consider adding weaving to your bucket list. You’d be surprised by how much it’ll change your life.
PS Join the Purposeful Empathy community. Together, let’s spread more empathy in the world.
PPS Watch my interview with Dr. Parag Mankeekar here and Rachel Kiddell-Monroe here. Stay tuned for an upcoming show featuring Zoe Weil. Hint: If you subscribe to my channel, you’ll never miss an episode!
For more than a decade, I have been singularly focused on leveraging empathy for personal and social transformation. I teach Leadership and Social Entrepreneurship & Innovation at McGill University and co-founder of PVM-Studio, a global advisory firm that supports purpose-driven people and organizations. Learn more about my work here.