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A fun, fictional story about two angels-in-training learning about human empathy.
Sam walked into the conference room where Bo and Sheila were sitting in front of a movie screen the size of a billboard that hung on the wall.
"Well, look who showed up," said Bo. "What was it this time, you forgot your wings?" he said laughing.
Sam laughed. “No, my last class is three clouds over. Do you know what cloud traffic is like at this time of day? It’s not easy being an angel,” said Sam. “Honestly, I thought it was going to be easier.” He pulled out a chair at the table and sat down beside them.
"You're not an angel yet, Sam," said Sheila. "Technically you're an angel-in-training."
"Yeah, yeah, I know. I'm just saying from what I've learned so far, being an angel ain't easy."
“You can say that again, Sam,” said Bo, also an angel-in-training. Bo pointed to the screen. “Wait 'til you see this. We’ve been watching a boy named Jory for the last half hour. We're learning about human empathy.”
Sheila jumped in, “We’re watching old footage from Jory’s childhood. Let's continue."
Sheila pushed play on the remote control and the movie began playing. On the screen, Jory was looking at bicycles in a bicycle shop. He walked past the top-of-the-line bikes with 29-inch wheels and frames that weighed only a few pounds and stopped in front of the less expensive bikes with 26-inch wheels and frames that were much heavier.
Jory’s mother walked over to him. “Sweetheart, your father and I told you that you can get any bike you want…any bike in the shop. It’s your birthday, and you never ask us for anything.”
“I want this one,” said Jory.
His mother looked around the bike store. “But this has got to be the heaviest, slowest and, I'm sorry to say, ugliest bike in the place. I don’t understand. Why would you choose this one?”
“Because my friend, Paul, can’t afford a nice bike, Mom. He's using his brother's old hand-me-down, and I don’t want him to feel bad.”
Sheila held up the remote control again. “That was at the bike store. Now let’s fast forward to when they got home.” Sam and Bo looked back at the movie screen.
Jory’s friends were hanging out in his driveway when he and his mother drove in with his new bike.
“Hey Jory! Whatcha get?” shouted one kid.
“I can’t wait,” said another.
A third kid was bouncing up and down in anticipation.
They gathered around as Jory pulled the bike out of the back of his mother's SUV. The other kids had been waiting to see his cool new bike. But when he placed it on the driveway and they got a look at it, their shoulders dropped and the kids fell silent. They looked at each other hoping someone would know what to say.
“Cool, Jory,” said Paul, feeling bad that his friend got such a crappy bike. “Let’s go for a ride.”
The kids all took off on their bikes, Jory peddling in the rear because his bike was heavy with small wheels and so it went the slowest. His mother had been faking a smile the whole time. When Jory struggled to catch up to his friends, she frowned.
Bo picked up the remote control from the conference table, paused the screen and looked at Sheila. “Where did his angels go wrong?"
Sheila stood up and walked in front of the movie screen. She was a mature and wise angel, and it was her responsibility to teach Sam and Bo how to become angels. She pointed to the paused frame of Jory peddling his butt off to catch up to his friends.
“It’s nobody’s fault, Bo. Today's lesson is about human empathy. Empathy is great when it comes to helping others. But when empathy leads a person to hold back on their own joy in order to not make others feel bad, that choice is made out of ignorance of how that actually affects others. The truth is that when empathy is used in this way, everyone suffers.”
Sam tilted his head in deep thought and raised his hand.
“Yes, Sam,” said Sheila.
“Can you show us an example of how holding back on one’s joy is detrimental to others?”
“Sure,” said Sheila, “let me show you how holding back on one’s joy in order to not make others feel bad actually keeps other people down, whereas allowing yourself nice things in life can help to lift other people up.”
Sheila walked over to Bo and took the remote from him. She pushed a button on the remote control, which fast-forwarded the movie. When she got to the spot she wanted, she hit play. On the movie screen, they saw Jory’s friend, Paul, after he got home. He immediately sat on the sofa and turned on the television.
“Where you been?” asked Paul’s mother. She was slicing carrots for dinner.
“Out riding my bike,” he said, never taking his eyes off the TV.
“Wasn’t Jory getting a new bike today?”
“Well, did he get it?”
“So, what do think? Does it make you want to get a new bike too?”
Paul scrunched his nose like a pig and shook his head, indicating no.
His mother put the knife down and looked at him. “Jory’s new bike doesn’t inspire you to get a new bike too?”
“Nah, I don’t really like the new bikes,” said Paul. "They're too slow. I like fast bikes."
Paul’s mother stared at her son with a sad face before picking up another carrot.
Sheila stopped the movie.
She told the young angels, "Paul never got a new bike. What he didn’t know was that his mother had been saving for a year to buy him a bike for his upcoming birthday. She had been so excited to give it to him. After this day, she was disappointed that she had saved her money for so long and now Paul didn’t want a new bike. So she bought him some clothes for his birthday and kept the rest in her savings account for his college fund."
Sheila looked at Sam and Bo, who were both a little teary-eyed.
Sam asked, "I don't understand. Why didn't Paul want a new bike?"
"Because he saw Jory's new bike and he didn't like it," said Sheila. "As far as he knew, all new bicycles were the same."
Bo spoke up, "So if Jory had gotten a really nice bike like his mother wanted to buy him, Paul would have seen that new bikes are really cool and he would have wanted one?"
"That's right, Bo. And this is just one of the many ways that empathy can hold other people back," Sheila explained. "By diminishing yourself as a human being in order to not make someone feel bad because you believe they don't have the same opportunities in life, you not only hold yourself back, but you may hold them back too. By lowering your standards, limiting your joy, or not permitting yourself any advantages in life, what you do is fail to serve as a positive example to others of what is possible."
Sheila walked over and sat at the conference table with the boys before continuing. "We learned last week why bragging and flaunting is a negative human trait, but this is a very different concept. When people see someone with a rad bicycle, a beautiful home, or a cool car or boat, they show other people what’s possible in life. The same is true for people who achieve their dream job, go on an adventurous vacation, or get season tickets to watch their favorite sports team. Some people don't know they can strive for these things because they have no reference to believe they’re even possible."
Sam raised his hand.
"Yes, Sam?" said Sheila.
"So is empathy for others a bad thing?"
"Not when used properly, Sam. Empathy helps human beings to be caring, loving, and understanding of one another. If empathy leads a person to donate to a charity that helps the homeless, that's wonderful. If empathy leads a person to help an elderly person across the street, that's good too. If empathy leads someone to become a nurse or doctor to help the sick, that's another good result. The key is that when empathy leads one person to help another, be understanding of another, or care for another, these actions help both the person getting the help and the person giving it."
Bo stood up in excitement because the lesson finally clicked for him. "But diminishing oneself to avoid making someone feel bad is not a good use or result of empathy. That only limits one’s ability to fully experience life, and it limits how that person can serve as a positive example to inspire others to fully experience life too!"
"Excellent, Bo!" exclaimed Sheila. "And there's a second part to this story. Paul's destiny was to become a successful athlete racing bicycles. But that never happened. Jory was in his life to inspire him toward this calling. His new bike was intended to inspire Paul to get a new bike of his own. Yet when Jory bought the cheap bicycle in order to save Paul's feelings, Paul no longer wanted a new bike after seeing Jory's. Since he never got a good bicycle, he never developed the skills or fitness levels to race bikes."
"Wow, that's such a sad story," said Sam. "What did Paul grow up to do instead?"
"That's kind of an interesting story, because Paul’s path wasn’t a bad one; it just wasn’t what his soul had planned before birth," said Sheila. "Because Paul had to learn how to fix his own bike to keep it working, he started fixing bicycles for other kids too. As he grew older, he opened a bike repair shop in town. In time, he began to sell new bikes as well as repair used ones. And believe it or not, his son became a pretty famous BMX bike racer."
"Wow, cool!" said Bo. "If I was a human being, I'd love to race BMX bikes."
"Good luck with that, Bo," said Sam. "You can barely fly, never mind ride a bike."
"All right, boys," said Sheila. "I think you're both going to become fabulous angels one day. That's it for today. Tomorrow we'll explore invisibility, being in the room with a human without them seeing you."
"Oh boy!" shouted Sam. "I'd give my left wing to do that."
Bo shook his head. "Heaven help the human who gets you as their guardian angel."
Thank you for reading my story.
PS, While the tale above is fictional, this is not an uncommon story. Below is my favorite passage on this topic written by Marianne Williamson. It is famously known as, “Our Deepest Fear.”
“Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness that most frightens us. We ask ourselves, 'Who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented, fabulous?' Actually, who are you not to be? You are a child of God. You’re playing small does not serve the world. There is nothing enlightened about shrinking so that other people won't feel insecure around you. We are all meant to shine, as children do. We were born to make manifest the glory of God that is within us. It's not just in some of us; it's in everyone. And as we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same. As we are liberated from our own fear, our presence automatically liberates others.” *
~ Marianne Williamson, A Return to Love:
Reflections on the Principles of "A Course in Miracles"
*If you’re thinking that this is a Nelson Mandela quote, you might be surprised to read this statement by the Nelson Mandela Foundation giving Williamson credit.
Bob Olson is the host of Afterlife TV, author of two books, Answers About The Afterlife and The Magic Mala, and creator of the reputable directory of credible psychics and mediums, BestPsychicDirectory.com. Bob’s newest venture is Bob Olson Connect, a Substack newsletter. Click here to view both free and paid options.
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