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Empathy - Island Style

“Brothers and sisters, be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to anger.” This is my favorite verse found in the Bible. It’s in James 1:19 and has been my compass for most of my life. It encapsulates what empathy means to me.

I was born and raised on the beautiful island of Nassau, The Bahamas. It has golden scenic beaches, perfectly soft warm sand, and smiles for miles and miles. With all this beauty around us, you might wonder what Bahamians like to talk about. You guessed it: politics and religion. It could easily be our favorite pastime to talk for hours about our two-party government and the spiritual leaders in the community.

As polarizing as this might sound, it’s not. From the time we’re young, we’re all taught the value of relationships, people and how to express your disagreements without tearing down each other. Living on an island reminds us that even though we’re different, we all live on the island. Your reputation is more important than gold and diamonds; nothing supersedes knowing each other’s God-given worth and value.

Growing up, my grandfather, aunts and uncles on Andros — the largest island in the Bahamas — would send us boxes of freshly caught fish, fruits and other home-baked goods. These boxes were transported via the mail boat without anyone ever requesting these delicacies. It was done from the perspective that if someone had more than they needed, it was an opportunity to share from their bounty. It was the realization that someone thought about your needs and proactively — without hesitation — provided.

One of my favorite pastimes after attending church was deciding which home to visit for an amazing meal. Even though my mother is an excellent cook, the saying “Variety is the spice of life,” held true for me. There was never a need for an invitation; you just had the knowledge that you were always welcome to come and dine. Everyone always knew to make a little more in case someone came with a need and wanted to partake. It was the desire to be there for each other.

I was blessed to grow up in a loving family. My father was always there pouring his love and knowledge into his children. That love and attention extended to others in need. From as early as I can remember, my father was always mentoring young men in the community. Even now, he is mentoring a seven year old boy whose mother needed help. For him, he saw helping as a way to create a legacy — so those he helped knew that someone loved and cared about them. We all appreciate the importance of belonging.

As an adult, I realized that empathy in the islands was something I experienced and was passed down from generation to generation. It was the fulfillment of a promise to love one another. The realization that any conversation, if entered into with mutual respect, can allow for common ground — even in perceived conflict. I learned that everyone is part of the family called humanity.

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