‘Shining Brightly’ Howard Brown talks with Lee Silverstein and Linda Gross

Need a little fun plus a dose of spiritual and practical wisdom?

Please enjoy these two Shining Brightly podcasts.




Care to learn more?

This is a perfect moment to become one of Howard’s growing global community of friends by ordering your copy of his book.

Here are other articles we have published, exploring the launch of this book:

Take a look at the book’s Foreword: ‘Shining Brightly’ Foreword by Dr. Robert J. Wicks: ‘Learn anew about the American Dream’

And especially read this story: Two-time cancer survivor Howard Brown writes ‘Shining Brightly’ to encourage others to stay healthy

Free Resource Guides

Download (and free-to-share) resource guides for discussing Shining Brightly:




Give a gift of George Mason’s ‘The Word Made Fresh’ and encourage the spread of this good news

The Rev. Dr. George A. Mason begins the process of signing 500 copies of his new book, “The Word Made Fresh,” for members of Wilshire Baptist Church in Dallas, Texas, at an hours-long reception before and after services on Sunday June 4. (Photo used with permission.)

Consider what these early readers are saying about this remarkable book—

Editor of ReadTheSpirit magazine

Click on the cover to visit the book’s Amazon page.

Give a copy of this book to your congregation.

Give a copy of this book to your pastor.

That’s the advice of our Marketing Director Susan Stitt who is doing that in her own Catholic congregation in Georgia.

That’s also what members of the Rev. George A. Mason’s Wilshire Baptist Church are doing. This week, they are collectively giving more than 500 copies of this book to each family within Wilshire’s 2,500-member congregation.

And, while George’s church is Baptist, we already are seeing the interest in this book among readers from a wide range of religious traditions—because good preaching is still one of the most admired forms of media across America. In this book, readers find not only the text of 80 of George’s best sermons from several decades as one of the nation’s most-admired preachers—but also videos of George delivering half of those messages. Those videos are easy to see by clicking a smartphone at QR codes that appear with 40 of the sermons. In addition, other noted authors and scholars add prefaces to the various themed sections of the book to provide thought-provoking context for these messages.

The book does not even officially launch on Amazon until June 27, 2023, but early copies already are circulating among leading Christian writers and preachers.

We’ve been putting Susan’s advice—that it’s a good deed to give a copy of this book to someone—to practice by making sure a handful of influential pastors and writers see this book even before the official June 27 launch date.

And we’ve seen thankful replies come back from readers around the world.

The Rev. Tom Eggebeen is a nationally influential Presbyterian Church USA pastor and preacher, whose sermons also have an online following. Tom emailed us the day after his copy of The Word Made Fresh arrived: “Started reading immediately. I had never heard of Mason, and that’s my loss, because these sermons are seriously impressive and the preface for each section a little tour de force in theology and practice. I will move through this book with care, and learning—I’ve already grabbed a few ideas and phrases I want to use. Glad that this publishing effort will bring to a larger audience his skillful and faithful sermons.”

Best-selling Christian author the Rev. Greg Garrett, an Episcopal priest and canon theologian for the American Cathedral in Paris wrote one of those tour de force prefaces for George’s new book, writing in part: “My friend George Mason is one of the Christian world’s most accomplished preachers and pastors. A writer, teacher, activist and media figure, during 30-plus years as senior pastor at Wilshire Baptist Church in Dallas, Texas, he modeled a Christian love of and advocacy for the marginalized, the disdained, the set aside, that feels absolutely like the Jesus I know, love and serve.”

Greg even gave George an international boost by including him in a worldwide Zoom from Paris in late May! And, stay tuned to ReadTheSpirit, because next week we’ll tell the rest of that story of Greg’s current work in Paris.

We’re not only hearing from Protestants and Anglicans. The best-selling Catholic author Chris Stepien opened his copy and immediately emailed us with very high praise, indeed: “Loving the book! Mason is a Baptist Fulton Sheen with a loving heart for the interfaith community!”

The Day1 radio network’s Peter Wallace didn’t want to be left out of this early litany of praise. “I love George Mason! Love the new book. I want to get George back on Day1 again.” For his part, George says he’d like to make a reappearance on Day1, so visit Day1’s website and sign up for updates there.

So, are you ready to jump over and order your copy—and a copy to give to your congregation or your pastor? Well, Amazon offers both hardcover and paperback editions for gift giving that will ship on June 27.

Not yet convinced? Well, just wait a moment: There’s more wisdom below in this ReadTheSpirit cover story from George about why good preaching matters today.

What Is the Goal of Good Preaching?

Because this book contains—by the consensus of early reviewers nationwide—some of the best progressive Christian preaching in America, the first question I asked George in our interview, this week, was:

“Can you tell us how you define good preaching?” I explained my question this way: “Preaching styles vary widely, but there is a core to preaching that you illustrate so well in this book. With each sermon, you’re welcoming people into a much larger community of faith—the timeless calling of Christianity to love God and to love our neighbors. There’s a much larger connection you’re calling people to make, each Sunday morning—right? How do you explain the goal of good preaching?”

George paused, collected his thoughts, and then said:

“Probably the main concern I have is that the big story we are trying to share with the world gets lost in preaching sometimes. The overall theme of redemption, the arc of the biblical story, is not evident in the sermon sometimes. The Gospel itself, the narrative of God’s redemptive work in the world, doesn’t come through in a given sermon that is thematically more narrow.

“As you and I have discussed, David, as we have worked on preparing this book—I think that every sermon has to offer some hope in it, some sense of grace, some vision of the New Creation, some sense of God’s presence that transforms us. Sometimes, there’s a teaching focus in sermons that is too narrow on a particular text and the proclamation is lost in the didactic nature of that specific explanation of a text. So, in a sermon like that, we may come away with a better understanding maybe of a particular slice of a biblical passage—but we may miss the sense that we are caught up in the grand drama of what God is doing in the world.

“This is such an important thing for preachers to recognize: We all are living some kind of story and it’s our job to get the story straight about what the Gospel is and to remind people that they were baptized into this Gospel story. It’s very easy to slip into more of an American story, say, or more of a family story, say, or more of a business story, perhaps—and lose the sense of what your particular place is in this great narrative of what God is up to in our world.

“Related to that is a need for preaching to help shape our souls and our characters in a way that allows us to resist those alternative stories—first to recognize them and then second to resist them and third to be able to be a witness to an alternative way.

“We have to remember what our job is when we’re standing up to preach. Too often we sense that we’re there to entertain because we want people to keep coming back. So, yes, we’re trying to tell good stories. But the stories we need to tell in good preaching are not just the stories that will capture people’s attention. The question is: Why do we tell these stories? What is the point of the stories we choose to tell? How do the stories we tell link to the bigger narrative of God in our world? How does it connect with the stream of God flowing through our world?

“We sometimes are too tempted to entertain or even to pander to the congregation in terms of what would delight them or make them know that we are on their side. In fact, out of love for the Gospel, love for God, love for our calling, sometimes we are called to challenge people—sometimes we need to actually make them uncomfortable. That requires of preachers a tremendous amount of personal spiritual fortitude because the pushback you’re going to get will be real if you are making people feel uncomfortable. You have to have the sense that you are sustained by a greater power. You need that strength, that fortitude, so that you don’t lose your identity when sometimes you are criticized for what you have been preaching.”

Challenges Clergy Face

Click on this photo to learn more about the pastoral residency program that George Mason and his predecessor, Bruce McIverhas, conceived for Wilshire Baptist Church.

Whatever your faith may be, the world’s great religious traditions are united in calling people toward building healthy communities, caring for the needy among us and promoting peaceful solutions in the world.

Currently, there are more than 444,000 clergy in the U.S. and those numbers are growing each year, according to the DATA:USA report on clergy compiled by Deloitte, Datawheel and Cesar Hidalgo, Professor at the MIT Media Lab.

As I looked at that DATA:USA clergy report with George, one conclusion we drew was: These folks certainly didn’t choose this field for the money. Clergy earn an average of slightly more than $47,000 a year. K-12 school teachers average more than $56,000; registered nurses earn nearly $68,000; police officers earn more than $72,000; pharmacists earn $107,000.

“One thing that really concerns me about these data is that we should be alarmed by how low clergy salaries are. That’s a national average and that means many clergy families are trying to exist on what’s less than a living wage today. That’s especially true for students leaving seminary today with more debt than ever—debt they’ll be paying off for years,” George said.

“The other thing that surprises me here, in this report, is the projected growth of the numbers of clergy,” he said. “I know that enrollment is down in seminaries all across the country and it’s increasingly difficult for many of these schools to stay open—especially to get master of divinity students. There are many students now looking for one- or two-year master degrees but not the longer program that qualifies you traditionally for ordination.

“And beyond the basic financial challenges that we see here for clergy, there are so many other challenges clergy face and so much more we need to know to be prepared for ordained ministry today,” George said.

Diving deeper into the DATA:USA report, the many facets of clergy education today become clear, including: studies in business, social sciences, psychology, public health, administration, computer technology and legal issues.

Even though George recently retired from Wilshire and switched to an ongoing emeritus status with his congregation—his calling to help prepare new pastors continues.

I asked George to describe some of the ways he has been working on that vocation. “Specifically, since this new book is about preaching, can you tell us how you’ve worked on improving the quality of preaching?” I asked.

“Over the past 20 years, the main way I’ve tried to work on improving preaching nationally is through our pastoral residency program at Wilshire Baptist Church, which started in 2002,” George said. “Soon after Wilshire’s program began, we became one of the first congregations in America to receive a major grant from the Lilly Endowment for its Transitions to Ministry program.

“Through that program, we really focused a lot on preaching. We now have 40 graduates of that program who are out in other congregations now and a lot of the work we’ve done is helping them to find their voice, learn how to exegete context as well as biblical texts, talk to them about the setting of where they are preaching, who they are preaching to, what the cultural context is and how to match their voice to the ears of a congregation. So, that’s been a good part of my effort nationally.

“Plus, we’ve supported Day1, which is a longstanding broadcast effort to improve preaching, and I’ve been on Day1 a few times with Peter Wallace’s team.”

And, as we have said above, stay tuned to Day1, because you may hear George again later this year.

Ways We All Can Help Spread Good News

First, order your copy of this book—and another copy to give to your congregation or your pastor. Amazon offers both hardcover and paperback editions for gift giving. If you email us at [email protected] and tell us about your order, we can even arrange for some of those first emailers to receive a signed bookplate from George that you could affix to the front of your copy. We really would like to hear what you think—because we know that more and more readers will be inspired by meeting George in the pages of this multimedia book.

(And because our cover stories remain online for years, we will add this qualifier: We can’t continue the bookplate offer forever, but we would welcome hearing from some of you who are becoming early readers!)

Connect with George yourself via his brand-new author’s page on Facebook—www.facebook.com/revgeorgemason

And visit George’s similarly brand-new websitewww.GeorgeAMason.com—which is a gateway both to his new book and to all of George’s ongoing work now that he has moved to emeritus status with Wilshire. When you first visit, sign up for his free email updates. (It’s easy to cancel anytime, but we doubt you’ll want to cancel.) Then, the website also makes it easy to Contact George, if you’re interested in an invitation to speak or have other questions.

Care to learn more?

This week in our Front Edge Publishing column, we have a special “thank you” from the head of the Wilshire Baptist Church publishing team, Gail Brookshire, who writes about how her team was able to create and launch this book project within one year—a remarkable feat in publishing.




Did you know it’s healthy to observe ‘Sabbath’? Martin Doblmeier’s new film shows how ‘Sabbath’ revives us

Pastor Michael Mickens walks down a hallway in Jackson, Mississippi, in a scene from Martin Doblmeier’s documentary “Sabbath.” (Clicking on this photo will take you to the filmmaker’s website where the film is streaming in addition to its release on public TV.)

‘Sabbath is the perfect spiritual technology’

Editor of ReadTheSpirit magazine

There’s a whole lot of wisdom in the 3,000-year-old Commandment: “Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy.”

Anna Serviansky holds the wine while a camper holds the braided candle at Havdallah at camp Ramah Darom in Georgia, a scene from filmmaker Martin Doblmeier’s documentary “Sabbath.” (Clicking on this photo will take you to the filmmaker’s website where the film is streaming in addition to its release on public TV.)

On June 1, filmmaker Martin Doblmeier is debuting his two-hour invitation to Sabbath on public television—at a time when millions of us are overwhelmed with pandemic anxiety, loss of loved ones and fears about the future of our country and our planet’s resources. We all wonder if we’re running out of time.

“Time is our only non-renewable resource,” J. Dana Trent—a pastor, scholar and author of For Sabbath’s Sake—tells us early in this new documentary. Dana is among 26 interviewees from various religious traditions featured by Martin in this film.

Because the film is debuting on public TV channels nationwide starting on June 1, Dana and Martin talked with me in a Zoom interview this week and Dana expanded on the film’s central theme:

Sabbath is good for us!

“This film could not be more timely,” Dana said. “We are just coming out of this devastating pandemic and we now have an epidemic of loneliness. Our Surgeon General Vivek Murthy right now is talking about the need for a healthy culture of connection. Isolation, loneliness and a lack of connection is dangerous. This film ‘Sabbath’ shows us how people are embracing this ancient practice of Sabbath as a way to rest, renew and reconnect. We all want a healthy culture of connection, as Dr. Murthy is saying—and I like this phrase that I heard from a rabbi describing the importance of Sabbath. He said, ‘Sabbath is the perfect spiritual technology.’ ”

“Technology?” I asked Dana in our interview.

“Yes, I like that word. That word points out how Sabbath works with us and through us,” Dana said. “Practicing Sabbath can be a spiritual technology.”

As a publishing house, we wholeheartedly agree with Dana. If you are a regular reader of our online magazine, then you have seen at least a dozen columns over the past two years about our book: Now What? The Gifts and Challenges of AgingBased on research into the Social Determinants of Health, that book even includes a chapter titled “Connecting with a Congregation” that lays out all the research into the public health benefits of regular participation with congregations.

In this new documentary, Martin crisscrosses America showing us vivid ways that men, women and children are celebrating Sabbath all around us—translating that ancient wisdom every week into healthy and spiritually enriched living. In fact, this film’s production and its release through public TV is so focused on practical benefits that Martin also is providing these free online resources for his audience:

How You Can See This Film—
and Contribute to the Nationwide Effort

Right now, under an agreement with the documentary’s funders, Journey Films is allowing individuals to stream the entire documentary for free online. You can watch the film on your smartphone, tablet or computer. Or, the film could be played on the main TV in your home if that TV is internet-enabled or you might be able to screencast from your digital device to your TV.

Starting June 1, the film also will be available on public television websites, as well. Some public TV stations will schedule broadcasts of the film, which viewers could save to their DVRs, if they wish.

“These offers really are based on scout’s honor that people will visit our film for a site license if they want to show this film to larger groups, which I would say is 20 people or more,” Martin said. “We realize that people could use their individual access to show this film to their classes or small groups at church, but we are asking people to visit our website and pay a public screening fee of $250 if you are planning to show this as a public event.”

That’s a reasonable fee to help support Martin and his small filmmaking crew.

If you would like to view and discuss this documentary in your community, please visit the “Screening Store” at Journey Films for the link to pay this film’s $250 fee. When you visit that page, you can learn about paying similar fees to publicly show other inspiring documentaries Martin has produced.

If you already are familiar with Martin’s work for Journey films, you may wonder:

Can I buy a DVD copy? “There is no DVD or Bluray available of this new film. We’re hearing that those formats are not what they used to be,” Martin said. “So, we’re only offering the streaming or, if you pay the fee, you can download the film.”

Is this film 1 or 2 parts? It’s both. Martin has released a version of the documentary divided into two parts that can be shown in two one-hour time slots on public TV. That version has transitional material added to the end of the first part and the start of the second part to help orient viewers. However, the version streaming from Journey Films runs straight through without a break.

Are there multiple tiers of fees? In the past, Journey Films did offer a higher-priced tier for larger public showings. This film is being released with a simple one-price fee.

“We’re telling people: Pay this one fee and you can stream it or download it, if you want, and you can show it as many times as you like in perpetuity,” Martin said. “We know there are ways around this, but we also know our viewers and we know they appreciate and support the good work we are doing. We’re asking people to help us by paying the fee—it’s a reasonable fee—if they want to use the film in their communities.”

Care to Learn More?

Religion News Service reporter Yonat Shimron has published an in-depth Q&A with Martin, headlined, “A new documentary takes a deep dive into the ancient and modern practice of Sabbath.”

That article begins:

(RNS)—In his book The Sabbath, Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel wrote that Jews did not build great cathedrals into space. Their great accomplishment was a cathedral in time—the Shabbat, or 24-hour period of rest. “Six days a week we live under the tyranny of things of space; on the Sabbath we try to become attuned to holiness in time,” Heschel wrote. That cathedral in time is part of filmmaker Martin Doblmeier’s latest two-part documentary called “Sabbath.” 

Yonat’s article also was picked up and republished in The Washington Post.

Howard Brown: Auspicious 18!

Thanks to Shining Brightly author and resilience expert Howard Brown, we all may feel a little better this week as we reach May 18th!

How auspicious is 18? Well, let Howard tell you in this episode of his Shining Brightly podcast:



Care to learn more?

This is a perfect moment to become one of Howard’s growing global community of friends by ordering your copy of his book.

Here are other articles we have published, exploring the launch of this book:

Take a look at the book’s Foreword: ‘Shining Brightly’ Foreword by Dr. Robert J. Wicks: ‘Learn anew about the American Dream’

And especially read this story: Two-time cancer survivor Howard Brown writes ‘Shining Brightly’ to encourage others to stay healthy

Free Resource Guides

Download (and free-to-share) resource guides for discussing Shining Brightly:




Retired Col. Clifford Worthy, aka ‘The Black Knight,’ receives a Quilt of Valor

Lynn Lou Lebeck, representing the Michigan Quilts of Valor group, sits next to retired Col. Clifford Worthy as his daughter Kim Worthy and grand-daughter Aniston Worthy look over his shoulder.

All of us, across our community of authors, are celebrating with retired Col. Clifford Worthy as a veterans’ group honored Cliff with a beautiful red-white-and-blue Quilt of Valor. And we want to thank Ham Schirmer for sending us the following report:

The handmade quilt was presented to Col. Worthy by a Michigan chapter of Quilts Of Valor. This is a volunteer group of people whose mission is to bestow a symbol of thanks and remembrance to those who have served in harm’s way to protect our lives and freedoms. The beautiful quilts are handmade by countless volunteers across the United States, who wish to thank those who have served.

The way in which Col. Worth received his was through an arrangement made by a fellow resident at Cedarbrook, where Clifford lives. After attending a ceremony for another veteran at the residence, this friend felt that Clifford was more than deserving of the honor. He contacted Quilts of Valor and arrangements were quickly made. As a result, Clifford is now the proud owner of a beautiful red, white and blue quilt which he proudly displays in his apartment.

Care to learn more about this hero?

Readers nationwide have told us how much they have enjoyed Col. Worthy’s memoir, The Black Knight: An African-American Family’s Journey from West Point—a Life of Duty, Honor and Country.

This is an especially timely story, because July 26, 2023, marks the 75th anniversary of Executive Order 9981, issued on July 26, 1948, by President Harry S. Truman. This executive order abolished discrimination “on the basis of race, color, religion or national origin” in the United States Armed Forces.

Retired Col. Clifford Worthy is the oldest living Black graduate of The United States Military Academy: West Point.

He is a great grandson of slaves; he was born in Atlanta, Georgia, and raised in Hamtramck, Michigan. Worthy was one of the few African American men of his generation who were accepted and excelled as a Black Knight of the Hudson, the traditional nickname for West Point cadets. He served as an officer in the U.S. Army from 1953 through 1975—including as an artillery officer in Germany during the Cold War and in Vietnam just after the Tet Offensive. He participated in Operation Gyroscope after World War II and served as Battalion Commander and Military Assistant to the Under Secretary of the Army.

Anita Nowak shows us how ‘Purposeful Empathy’ can change the world

“Purposeful Empathy” author Anita Nowak in the midst of her global travels. (Photo provided by the author.)

‘Empathy is the innate trait that unites us in our common humanity’

Editor of ReadTheSpirit magazine

Click the cover to visit the book’s Amazon page.

I decided to interview author Anita Nowak the moment I opened her new book, Purposeful Empathy, and found the Foreword by one of my own global heroes: Nobel Laureate Muhammad Yunus. He is the Bangladeshi-Bengali banker who pioneered the “microfinance” idea for helping neighbors in impoverished communities with small loans. One of the most memorable hours in my life was sitting in a small circle of American journalists in a home in Asia, listening to Yunus talk about his life.

“What lessons do you want us to share with our readers?” we asked him at the close of our hour together.

He said simply, “We must care what happens to each other—then we must learn to trust each other,” and then he was silent. What a clear answer! Two steps: Caring. Trusting. So simple, yet such a world-changing idea! And those same two principles are the reason Yunus agreed to add his considerable authority to the first page of Anita’s new book. In that Foreword, he writes:

Purposeful Empathy is a timely and inspiring read that carries an important message—one that aligns with my vision for a better world, animated by mutual care, respect, cooperation and solidarity.

So, because of Yunus’s words, I read Anita’s book. And, after just a few chapters, I was impressed with the considerable resources she has organized for readers—resources to help us learn to care and learn to trust. As Yunus writes in his Foreword, this is a book so practically designed that it can “swing you from cynicism to hope, from selfishness to selflessness, and from apathy to action.”

I also enlisted my reading-and-interviewing partner for this series of ReadTheSpirit stories about books on resiliency and overcoming trauma in healing communities. That partner is my son-in-law, the Rev. Joel Walther, the pastor of a mid-sized United Methodist congregation in Michigan. Together, we are working this spring on a series of interviews and columns about some very helpful new books appearing this year, including last week’s story about Trauma-Informed Evangelism.

Question: What is empathy?
Answer: It’s not as simple as you may think!

As Joel and I read Anita’s book, then compared our notes, our collective first question for her emerged: So, what is empathy?

You may already be responding to our question: Oh, that’s so simple!

Well, it isn’t. And I proved that point by using the much-heralded new AI image-generator Dall-e to request illustrations of “empathy.” Turns out: The word “empathy” stops Dall-e cold in its tracks. The vast Artificial Intelligence behind Dall-e apparently can’t discern the word’s meaning! Based on my request, Dall-e gave me illustrations of everything from an outright angry old man to a young woman wearing a blindfold. As Anita points out in her book, the word “empathy” is only about a century old in common English usage and it is often misunderstood. Clearly, based on my Dall-e AI experiments, that confusion is widespread.

I said to Anita in our three-way Zoom conversation, “Joel and I agree that the first big question in our conversation about your work is pretty basic: What’s empathy?”

The best answer to that question is: Read Anita’s book. As her book opens, she explains that, years ago, she wasn’t thinking specifically about “empathy” as she worked in social-change organizations in various parts of the world and collected interviews with social entrepreneurs. She was researching a doctoral thesis about the motivations behind “the next generation of change makers.” It was only after her thesis advisor pushed her to dig deeper into her growing body of research that she realized the core motivation was: empathy. That insight forever shifted the focus of her life’s work. In 2023, after the main title of her new book, Purposeful Empathy, is the subtitle: Tapping Our Hidden Superpower for Personal, Organizational and Social Change. We can guarantee that you will enjoy all 253 pages.

But, from our Zoom author interview, here’s a much shorter answer to our basic question. In Anita’s words, transcribed from our interview, she said:

“When I began my research, I was interviewing people who are creating positive change in the world to find out what has shaped their lives and their work—so I did not come to this research thinking that empathy was the answer. The answer ’empathy’ came out of the research. I realized that, across all of the stories I was collecting in my research, there were two things in common: One was that service was modeled in their home. They had a family that valued benevolent service to something greater than yourself. That was a value that was embedded in their childhood. And the second thing they all had in common was that they couldn’t turn a blind eye to whatever was going on around them that left people marginalized or disenfranchised or was hurting people in some way. And so I called this ‘empathic action.’

“Then, after discovering that they were all animated and inspired by empathy, I did a deep dive into ’empathy’ to understand it better. And what I came across in the literature was these words like ‘pity’ and ‘sympathy’ and ‘compassion’ that often were treated as synonyms with empathy. Then, I studied the etymology of these words and the evolution of the word ‘empathy’ in the English language and discovered that these words really form an emotional continuum. So, on one side of the continuum you’ve got ‘pity’ and then the continuum moves through ‘sympathy’ and ‘compassion’ to ‘empathy.’ But when you’re at the ‘pity’ end of the continuum, there is a power asymmetry in the relationship. When you pity someone, you look down on them. But as you move across this continuum all the way to ‘empathy,’ there’s a recognition of our shared humanity.

“So that’s why I refer to ’empathy’ as the innate trait that unites us in our common humanity. Empathy puts us on a level playing field. It takes away the ‘separateness’ and the ‘otherness.’ … Because we have these shared emotions like love and fear and shame and joy, that’s what makes empathy possible. And that’s why in the subtitle of this book, I call it our ‘superpower,’ because it connects us in our oneness in humanity.”

Adding ‘Parenting’ or ‘Family’ to Anita’s subtitle

Anita’s answer, above, is a wonderful summary of what readers will discover as they move through chapters that she packs with supplemental questions and activities for individual readers and small groups.

But it was Joel who pointed out one important value of this book that is not listed in Anita’s subtitle: Parenting and family life in general. Of course, the power of empathy to grow within families is right there in her answer, above—as well as in the pages of her book.

Because the words “Parenting” or “Family” didn’t make the cut for her subtitle, though, we asked her to talk about that aspect of her work and her daily life.

“One of the most important lessons I learned from interviewing social entrepreneurs is that they grew up in families that modeled service behavior. That lesson has stayed with me. I became a parent late in life. I had my daughter when I was 42 and she’s now turning 7.

“So, recently, my daughter and I were buying Harry Potter décor for her birthday and, as we ran our errands, we happened to pass an unhoused man on the street. My daughter asked, ‘Do we have time to buy a sandwich for this man?’

“I said, ‘Yes, we definitely have time to buy a sandwich for him.’

“But, when we went and bought the sandwich, then went back out to where we had seen him, he was no longer there. So, she insisted that we walk a couple of blocks to try to find him. We couldn’t find him and eventually she ate the sandwich.

“Even though we didn’t reach him with the sandwich, I was so touched by my daughter having that reflex. And I need to say: I’m not claiming to have a perfect angel living in my midst. Around that same time, I got a call from another parent saying, ‘Your daughter was mean to my daughter today.’ So, I’m not claiming our lives are perfect!

“I tell this story about my daughter and the sandwich to say that I think we need to focus as parents on raising kind children. We need to talk to our children about social issues from a young age. In our world today, there are children who are living through war and other life-and-death hardships. I disagree with the idea that it’s somehow inappropriate to expose our children to those hard issues in our world. I’m not going to traumatize my daughter by talking about some of the ills in our world. I’ve taken my daughter to protest marches in her stroller. She’s growing up aware of some of these concerns.

“And even more than what we talk about, we need to pay attention to how we behave. One day, my daughter saw me as I was driving and pulled a big U-turn in the street and she was concerned: ‘Mom, you’ve just done something illegal!’ She was judging me. The point I’m making is that our children are watching us all the time and we need to model for them behavior that we hope they will follow, just like the social entrepreneurs I mentioned at the start of this answer. When they were children, they saw their parents doing things that they are doing today. I’m not claiming to be a perfect mother, but I do think about what we are modeling every day for our children because I know that makes a big difference.”

‘How do we intentionally work toward empathy?’

The reason Joel is partnering with me in this particular series of interviews is that these new books really are aimed at community leaders, including pastors trying to lead resilient, compassionate, loving congregations. He’s a great source of grassroots insight and, in this interview, he asked Anita to particularly address: “As a pastor reading your book, I understand that you’re really talking about empathy as connection. And I keep wondering: How do we convince people to encourage connection rather than division. We’re obviously in a place now where we need something new?”

Anita answered:

“That’s a great question, Joel. And the answer really is: practice.

“As I learned about the neuroscience of empathy, it shows that we can become more empathic with practice just like doing bicep curls at the gym to strengthen our arms. In the book, I mention Jamil Zaki at the Stanford Social Neuroscience Laboratory. He’s done research that shows just the belief that we can become more empathic actually has real implications on our behavior. There’s so much evidence now that empathy can be purposeful. We can choose to be more empathetic. So, as I learned about all of this, I did all kinds of experiments myself that you can read about in the book.

“I often tell people about this experience I had at a FedEx store: It was a holiday season some years ago, before we had cell phones—so there was nothing to distract us as we waited. I was standing in this FedEx store with other people all becoming bored and annoyed. Then, I finally got to the counter and the woman at the counter was rude—not just a little bit rude, but nasty. I felt this trigger, like: How dare you talk to me like that?! But, instead of saying that and making the situation worse, I took a second to say: ‘Are you OK?’

“Then, she took a second to discern if I was being sarcastic and mean, kind of passive-aggressive. She realized I was serious and she just burst into tears. She said, ‘I’ve been doing double shifts for two weeks straight, my son’s at home with a fever and now I think I’m getting sick. We haven’t had a lunch break here. I’m just exhausted.’

“And I get goose bumps when I tell this story because I actually reached across the counter and we held hands. Now we’re both crying. Here we are—perfect strangers—in this empathic embrace. I could remember being on her side of the equation many times in my life. All of us have been! And haven’t we all, also, been on my side of that counter that day?

“But we usually don’t take a step that leads to a moment of empathy like that.

“Now think about how many times these things happen to us over and over again, these days, until we’re all frazzled. We’re triggered by the Twitter-sphere, by people driving poorly, by other people who are upset. We’re stressed out—and here’s the problem: We cannot live in a state of stress and a state of empathy at the same time. Our brain does not do that. So, it’s a matter of making a decision to lean into empathy. And, when you do, it’s amazing what opens up!

“So, my answer is: Practice. Practice. Practice.”

Question: Why try empathy?
Answer: It feels so good!

Here’s the best news about Anita’s book: After her advice, above, about “practice, practice, practice,” this book could sound like bitter medicine. You know you should read it, even if you don’t feel like it.

In fact, reading her book is the opposite of that: It feels good.

And it feels good to read these pages, and think about the questions she asks—and try the activities she suggests—because it feels good.

Empathy feels good!

Finally, Joel and I asked Anita to talk about his wonderfully refreshing “pay off” for doing something so good in the world. She began by explaining the two kinds of empathy she describes in the early pages of her book. Here’s what she said:

“We have access to both kinds of empathy: affective and cognitive empathy.

“The affective empathy, the emotional empathy, is like an emotional contagion. Affective empathy happens to us. When you see a child playing in the park and you hear that child giggling and laughing, you can’t walk by without that lifting your spirit. You’re feeling a resonance with that child just like when you see somebody crying at the airport, you wonder what those tears are about because you feel it.

“Cognitive empathy is different because it requires our choice. We’re actively involved in perspective taking: I wonder what that experience is like for somebody else? Sometimes it involves projection: I wonder how I would feel in this circumstance? It’s intentional empathy and that’s why it’s purposeful empathy.

“So purposeful empathy, cognitive empathy, is the thing that gives us the most power. We can choose to turn it on. And we can choose to turn up the volume of purposeful empathy. When you’re listening to somebody tell a story and you’re holding space for that person to share something—and you’re listening with engagement—that triggers your purposeful or cognitive empathy.

“That actually feels good! The research shows that when we are feeling emotionally connected to somebody, even if they’re sharing a sad story, our brains light up in the same pleasure and reward centers as if we were having chocolate cake. We want to feel connected to one another.

“And when we choose to lean into empathy more regularly in our lives, we strengthen our empathic responses and we can help strengthen the empathic responses in others. We need to remember that kindness is currency—that we can choose to practice empathy and that it feels sooo good!


Care to read more?

GET HER NEW BOOK: Purposeful Empathy, is available from Amazon, Barnes & Noble and other booksellers across the U.S. and around the world.

CONNECT WITH HER ONLINE: Visit Anita’s website, which includes this page about her public speaking. That page includes a clickable button “Want me to speak?” that reaches Anita with your inquiry.

READ MORE BOOKS ABOUT CARING AND RESILIENCY: The good news is that there are many helpful men and women publishing books that contribute to this overall message of hope and caring. One book we’re highly recommending this year is Howard Brown’s Shining Brightly.

Howard Brown: ‘You’ll want to learn from these two power-house women: Nim Stant and Orit Ramler’

Nim Stant presenting the International Impact Book Award to Howard Brown in Toronto.

How do we find and focus on our life’s purpose?

Author of Shining Brightly

After producing dozens of Shining Brightly podcasts, I want to call special attention this week to two power-house women whose unique missions in life involve helping people to make our world a better place. And, of course, that’s the core message of my own memoir, Shining Brightly. So, I feel as though these women are sisters as we share this common hope.

Please, take a few minutes to listen to their stories. I know you’ll feel inspired yourself after listening to their ideas and I hope you’ll wind up wanting to share this column—and these podcasts—with friends on social media.

Who is Nim Stant?

On her website, Nim describes herself this way: “I am an entrepreneur, author, and influencer on a mission to help elevate the human experience of living with full potential. I founded Go All In Media and Go All In Fest in 2020, intending to bring together global thought leaders and teachers to educate, heal and create support for our community as a whole.”

As I am traveling and speaking to groups myself, this year, I have now worked cooperatively with Nim in appearances both in the U.S. and Canada, where she presented me with an award for my book. She’s featured in the podcast you can hear below.

Here’s what impresses me most about Nim: She’s resilient! In this podcast, we discuss her journey to the U.S. from Thailand—and we talk about how she now is committed to giving back to families in poorer communities around the world. One example: She funds playgrounds for children who need a safe place to play.

Who is Orit Ramler?

Orit has developed a unique process to help men and women “live with purpose.” She calls this process the “Box of Life.” On her website, she describes the Box of Life this way: “Through The Box of Life Project, Orit will coach you to curate meaning in your life by preserving the memories and objects you cherish and the stories that make them—and you—special. Honoring your most treasured accomplishments and objects will preserve your legacy for future generations. We help you capture your stories, curate your memories and live with purpose.”

What impressed me most about Orit? She’s a power-house of fresh ideas! Her Box of Life concept as a way to focus our lives? That’s genius. In our podcast conversation, we discuss some of the core questions she raises in her work with professionals nationwide.