Weaving Reality VI: On the Thickness of Skin

Some of you may have observed that I have been sharing my WeaveMothers series elsewhere…or maybe it’s better to say I have been presenting it and most people have been ignoring it.  The offerings are here:

Weaving Reality

Picking up the rhythm

Nebulous answers to cogent questions

Looking back at the present


This is the sixth episode, originally published as part of Cafe Discovery:

The Storyteller took a deep breath and cast back for another memory, another story to tell.  The Listener was patient, but did require the occasional feeding.  The Storyteller chuckled at the observation.  The Engineer glanced backward and nodded.  And the Train switched to another happentrack.  

The Storyteller began to sing.  The Listener leaned forward.  The passenger turned over, but otherwise remained sleeping.

One day Sun found a new canyon.

It hid for miles and ran far away,

then it went under a mountain.  Now Sun

goes over but knows it is there.  And that

is why sun shines–it is always looking.

Be like the sun.

–William Stafford

Pine was at it again, hectoring all of creation.  Canyon rolled its eyes as Sun passed overhead.  Canyon preferred peace.

Pine laughed at Birch.  He pointed at Rainbow Eucalyptus and said, “Are you trying to be her?  No bark at all?  So disgusting.  No morals.  She is a danger to us all.”

Birch cringed.  “But she is pretty,” Birch said.

Birch hated it when Pine got this way.  Pine was devoid of feelings for others, and so became extremely judgmental and disdainful.  Birch wanted to say something about it, but didn’t want to seem judgmental himself.  Birch often wished Pine would keep his opinions to himself.  Birch cringed again just thinking about it.

Pine continued, “I’m telling you, Birch.  You will rue the day when Fire comes and you don’t have the bark to protect yourself.  You’ll be sorry…and a danger to us all.”  And with that, Pine fell silent.

But Birch remembered a time, a time when he felt the pain, so weak he almost missed it.

He had reached out his mind and beheld strange creatures, so unfocussed, so unaware…totally unaware of him.  So incredibly fragile.  No bark at all.  But creatures nonetheless.

Birch remembered when he told Willow about what he had sensed, and she had produced an antidote for the pain.   It wasn’t that long ago.



The word first appeared in 1903, a translation of the German Einfühlung (from ein “in” + Fühlung “feeling”), which was coined in 1858 by the German philosopher and logician Rudolf Hermann Lotze (1817-81).

Note:  Lotze studied the sciences under Weber, Volkmann and Fechner (Weber is credited with inventing experimental psychology) and aesthetics and art under Weisse.  He considered himself an idealist in the style of Hegel and Fichte.  But he was the bridge to a new way of thinking.

[He wrote] …a series of works which aimed at establishing in the study of the physical and mental phenomena of the human organism in its normal and diseased states the same general principles which had been adopted in the investigation of inorganic phenomena.

But I digress.

The word was developed from the  Greek empatheia “passion,” from en- “in” + pathos “feeling” (see pathos).  It was originally a term from the theory of art appreciation.  Empathize (v.) was coined 1924; empathic (adj.) is from 1909.

Online Etymology Dictionary

From Philip K. Dick’s Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?, wherein one of the methods of distinguishing humans from androids involves a test based on involuntary empathic reactions, through the half-Betazoid Deanna Troi, to the television series Charmed and Angel, empaths have been grist for the fictional wheel.

Empathy is not sympathy.  Sympathy is a way of reacting to someone who is suffering.  Empathy is feeling that suffering as if it were you own.  In it’s simplest form, it is flinching when someone slams his finger in a door.  At it’s most sophisticated, it is their pain in your heart.


Some see it as another form of spiritualism…of the fortune teller variety.  Some call it New Age, though it is as old as the wind.  I rather see it as the basis for compassion.  I see the command that I thicken my skin as a demand that I abandon my compassion.  I will not do that.

When they come and ask me why I didn’t protect you, I don’t want to have to say that my skin was so thick I couldn’t feel your pain.

From Carlos Nakai’s Canyon Trilogy:

Creation Chant


    • Robyn on July 21, 2012 at 00:04

    …depicts Multnomah Falls, east of Portland, OR.

  1. Hi Robyn! Was just reminded today, in the course of my reading, of Kim Coco Iwamoto, who was elected to the Hawaii state Board of Education in 2006.


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