Empathy – Charleston, Bridging Empathy Gaps and Taking Compassionate Action

“In the End, we will remember not the words of our enemies, but the silence of our friends.” – Martin Luther King, Jr


(Thanks for staying with me as I mourned for the Charleston 9 through haikus, As I stated in Monday’s  preview. I am still sorting through my feelings so please bear with me.  We are in this together. )


A few days ago, I was weeping bitter tears of repentance during my morning prayers. Since the racially motivated shooting of 9 devout members of the Emanuel AME church in Charleston, I have cried every morning during my quiet time but this time was different. More on that later…

The Charleston shooting was personal to me.

I have dark brown skin. I am married to a man with cream-colored skin. I am a Christian. I attend Church regularly. And when I visit my family in Raleigh, NC, I attend an AME church with my uncle and aunt.  It could have been me or any other members of my family in that church.

Unsurprisingly,  I was gutted by this shooting incident. It felt completely devastating because of several things:  the betrayal of trust by the shooter after being welcomed and  spending an hour with them during the prayer meeting, the desecration of the institution of Sanctuary – historically,  a place anyone could claim for safety from the outside world and the idea that having dark skin meant that you were not safe, anywhere, not even church.

The shooting has huge implications for a person with dark brown skin. The psyche can handle many things but the complete lack of a safe space to be one’s self is devastating.

I HATE talking about race.

The recent escalation of racial incidents, police brutality and rise in hateful rhetoric has brought this topic front and center in my life. Being quite an empathetic and compassionate person, I can talk about love, forgiveness, inclusion. But race has always been a topic to avoid for me.

With Trayvon Martin, Michael Brown and Freddie Gray and the other incidents involving arrests and police brutality, I distanced myself emotionally because I couldn’t relate to those who were being beaten up. I am embarrassed to say that  in my mind I thought, “Well, they were all doing something they shouldn’t have been doing” ” they were in the wrong place at the wrong time” “They were resisting arrest” “They should have obeyed the police and nothing would have happened.” “Why do we always have everyone protesting on behalf of  wrongdoers .”  It sounds awful, I know. But it is the truth and I am not proud of it.

Freddie Gray was killed in Baltimore where I live. The riots happened 7 minutes away from my house. This case began to change how I saw things. I could sense the tide turning. It felt like the country was going through a catharsis… a racial reckoning… finally dealing with its past. And It was starting to get to me.


Then the Charleston shooting happened and completely wrecked me out. What excuse could I come up with this time? These people were in church not on the streets. They were pillars of society, God fearing people and good citizens not lawbreakers. The only problem they had was the color of their skin.

They had done NOTHING to deserve this.

Waves of frustration and despair have washed over me these past 7 days of mourning.

Even more stunning was the wall of silence I felt around me. No one was talking about it. Most of the people I loved and looked up to remained silent on the topic.

I began to obsess over Martin Luther King’s quote about the “Silence of Our Friends”.  I thought about the Holocaust and how I always wondered how the Nazis were able to get away with killing the Jews. It was partly because some friends of the Jews had remained silent. They looked away from the evil that was ravaging their neighbors and friends. And masses perished as a result.

That morning, during my quiet time, I wept bitter tears of repentance because I had been guilty of subconsciously condemning and judging all the other victims as “wrongdoers”.  I was wrong not them.

They did not deserve to be discriminated against.  They did not deserve to be mistreated and definitely not for the color of their skin. They did not deserve to die.

My empathy gap, our collective empathy gap is costing us.  We can not afford to stand by, stay silent in the face of injustice or look away from the atrocities inflicted on our neighbors and friends.

I know some of you, like me, hate talking about race. But, as one of my heroes Brene Brown says, “We can do hard things.”

We can have the hard conversations. Yes, we might feel overwhelmed, drained or even numbed by the constant barrage of news about more and more racially motivated incidents. But we can not allow our hearts to become hardened. We have to stay engaged.

Choose empathy not sympathy. Empathy implies staying engaged, feeling with, intimacy…  Sympathy implies distance,  feeling sorry for, pity…

And when all is said and felt, we must do something. We must back our compassion with action. Sentiment is cheap.

I have cried everyday, expressed my thoughts through haiku for 7 days, shared important articles with friends and strangers alike. But that is not even close to what needs to be done.

Take action.

Forgive others. Forgive yourself. I was extremely impressed by the expression of forgiveness by the family to the shooter. It inspired me to go beyond the frustration and view this with a lens of love.

Sign a petition. Support the victims’ families. (I will update this post with a list of resources.)

Speak up when you hear someone using a racial slur or making gross generalizations about a group. Talk to your friends about where you stand on this issue. Become an instrument of peace and reconciliation.

Reach out across your empathy gap. Say something. Do something. Be there for someone.

We are in this together.

God bless you.


Cultivating Empathy:

1. In what ways has the Charleston Shooting affected you?

2. What empathy gaps have you noticed in lieu of the recent racial incidents?

3. What  hard conversations do you need to have?

4. What organizations can you support?

5.  What changes do you need to make in your life to be more inclusive and tolerant of people  with different cultures from yours?

6. In what ways do you need to forgive yourself and others for past mistakes?

7, Whom can you enlist to support you in your quest to become more mindful of empathy gaps and taking compassionate action?

This land is ours. We are in this together. What happened in Charleston affects us all. Let this be the line in the sand. Let this time be different. It is time for a change. We can do hard things. See you next time!




Yvonne Whitelaw  writes for Yvonnewhitelaw.com where she blogs about her quest to grow into her ideals in her “Live Your Ideals Project”. By sharing her Daily Haikus (#HaikuRx – Prescriptions for inspired living) and lessons along the way (Mondays and Thursdays), she hopes to serve and inspire a tribe of wholehearted idealists like you, to “live your ideals, thrive in your calling and change the world.”

Empathy (A Preview) – Courage, The Power of Speaking Up and the Price of Silence

“In the End, we will remember not the words of our enemies, but the silence of our friends.” – Martin Luther King, Jr


I am heart-broken over the racially motivated shooting of 9 devout individuals at the Emmanuel AME church in Charleston. As, I grieve and process this incident, I will  continue posting #CharlestonShooting #PrayforCharleston haikus for a total 7 days through Wednesday the 24th. In keeping with my Mon-Thur blog posts schedule, I will post the full version of this post on Thursday. Thank you for your patience. Take care of  one other and do not remain silent my friends! Much love and God Bless.

– Yvonne


Yvonne Whitelaw  writes for Yvonnewhitelaw.com where she blogs about her quest to grow into her ideals in her “Live Your Ideals Project”. By sharing her Daily Haikus (#InspirationRx) and lessons along the way (Mondays and Thursdays), she hopes to serve and inspire a tribe of wholehearted idealists like you, to “live your ideals, thrive in your calling and change the world.”

Abundance (Part 4) – Pruning, Fallowing & Trellising for Your Harvest

“Be ready when opportunity comes. Luck is when preparation and opportunity meet.” -Roy D. Chapin Jr.

“Be careful what you wish for…”
It’s funny… When I began writing about Abundance a few months ago,  Parts 1, 2 and 3 flowed out pretty smoothly. Part 4 has been an intense struggle because I am still in the middle of learning its lessons. I posted a preview in the hopes that I would soon post the full version in a matter of days. But, it has been a couple of months now.

We teach what we most desperately need to learn…

Since I began writing about Abundance, I have had waves of abundance pour into my life… no, not financially… I am not rolling in millions of dollars (not yet! ) but there has been a wealth of opportunities and favor.  Being a full-time stay-at-home mom, who is also building a physician coaching and facilitation practice, while pursuing my creative interests with writing, I had not anticipated any of this. So I have been unable to stick to my twice-weekly blogging schedule because I have been busy. But “busy” is a loaded term nowadays, used as a status symbol by some to validate a semblance of productivity… I digress…

Needless to say,  Abundance appears to be a value I really need  to learn about. Maybe it is due to my ascetic tendencies from spending some of my formative years in the third world, growing up in boarding school and not really caring about anything other than books. Or maybe it is from being a giver and healer, giving to others sometimes to my detriment, and not expecting anything in return.

Whatever the reason, I am grateful that the wilderness season I have been in for the past 7 years is drawing to a close. I can feel it. I am not out of it yet, but I can see the promised land.

And before the promised land, before the harvest,  before the bounty, one has to prepare for abundance.  Fallow, Pruning & Weeding, Trellising are essential for a bountiful harvest.  Without these in place, you risk harming your crops, wasting your fruit and diminishing your harvest size. Catch my drift?



Earlier this year, I could feel I was on the verge of abundance. I wasn’t sure what form it would take but I wanted to prepare for it. I had had an intense 2014…  a lot of  sowing… Seeds of ideas thrown far and wide, some planted intentionally, others spontaneously… All with an attitude of service and a commitment to align with my ideals.

And since, I felt I was on the edge of something, I also sensed a calling to rest, fallow, listen, gain clarity  about next steps… I had to let go of the fear of missing out especially since everyone else appeared to hit the ground, running in 2015! But I honored the call. I even wrote a haiku about it in my post on  Cultivating Light – It’s Fallow time!

And right at the end of my fallow time, I got accepted into a coveted and acclaimed world-class business and personal development program called the Good Life Project Immersion  by Jonathan Fields.  Jonathan Fields is someone  I have admired for a long time and found his work during one of my Oprah interview binges on youtube two years ago. Jonathan Fields has had such a strong, positive and pervasive impact on my life, I can barely remember my life before stumbling unto his work. I posted twice  last year on the pivotal effect his camp GLP had on me.

I am halfway through this intense 7 month immersion program and it has already changed my life.   I will post on that later.


Pruning & Weeding

One of my least favorite topics Jesus talked about was the idea of Pruning. Ugh, I cringe, every time I read about it. He talks about pruning the vine’s branches to make it more fruitful. Here’s the thing. The vine is cut whether it is fruitful or not. When the branch is not fruitful, it is cut off and thrown away. When it is fruitful, it is pruned to make it produce even more fruit. I always say “Pruned if you do, pruned if you don’t. Either way, you get cut!” Sounds a little silly but bear with me.

The truth is, if you want to be fruitful, you have to be willing to prune… get rid of the habits, the relationships that keep you from being productive or fruitful. What habits no longer serve you? What relationships drain you? Start a new exercise regimen? Stop eating out?

Or maybe you are already productive… What tweaks can you make to improve your fruitfulness? Increase your meditation time? Exercise a little longer? Eat more greens? Hire a sitter for Date night?  Focus more on the things that are working for you and cut out the activities that are not.

My Daily Haiku writing has been one of the most rewarding and unexpected gifts of my life. I had started a quest to write a haiku a day for 100 days right after I attended World Domination Summit.  But I found myself getting swallowed up by my quest to write a haiku a day for 100 days… I reached my goal late last year but have been unable to stop writing. So I extended my goal to 365 days. Then something surprising happened.  On my birthday, April 24th, my haiku quest was featured on The Art of Non-Conformity Site by Chris Guillebeau , the creator of World Domination Summit. I have also been a long time follower and admirer of his work.

I have recently added the hashtag #InspirationRx to my haikus to reflect my ongoing work to inspire wholehearted physicians to live their ideals, thrive in medicine and change the world. I have been interviewing and coaching physicians using positive psychology coaching and daring way facilitation to prevent and reverse compassion fatigue, disillusionment and burnout in physicians and other clinicians. I have been working hard to build my practice.

In the middle of this sudden onslaught of abundance, the Baltimore Riots happened about 7 minutes down the street from my house. I will save the commentary for another time. But my good friend Danny LaBrecque, a gifted child educator, art illustrator and host of the children’s show Danny Joe’s tree house and I made a video on emotionally coaching children through tragic events using Dramatic play. It was my first time on video and we will be doing more.

This has not only meant pruning but also weeding. Removing huge time suckers from my life. I now schedule most of my calls. I limit social media. TV only happens when I am on the elliptical machine. This might sound drastic to some but I have found the need to eliminate the activities that strangle my work and drain my already limited time.

I have also been traveling a lot lately.

Yes, I am learning to make time for what I really want. It is a very challenging lesson to learn. But I am determined to learn it.



I learned a cool fact about tomatoes the other day. The vines need to be placed on support structures called trellisses. These infrastructures keep the vines from getting destroyed by their own weight especially when they produce fruit. And this structural support also helps them produce even more fruit.

Oh, I live for metaphors!

I am learning that as I get busier, I need to delegate. I am not very good at delegating. I have always been a do-it-aloner – remnants of a latch-key childhood.

However, if I do not delegate, I will collapse under my own weight. If I create structural support such as hiring team members for my work, or hiring a house keeper once a month, I will become more fruitful in all arenas.  I will need solid footing as I move to a new city. I will need emotional support from friends as I make radical shifts in my life.

What about You?

Abundance: Fallow, Pruning & Trellissing for Your Harvest

1. In what ways have you been surprised by abundance?

2. What infrastructures do you have in  place for your inevitable harvest? Where do you need trellisses?

3. In what ways do you need pruning and weeding?  Can you think of habits or relationships that drain or harm you?

4. In what ways do you need to Fallow? Have you been so busy you’ve neglected your own needs?

5. Who is on your emotional support team?

6. What are your grateful for?

7. In what ways do you need to embrace and prepare for the season you are in?


So, this is a brief (!) summary of the few things I have been up to. I am at the halfway point in 2015. I am optimistic though uncertainties surround me.  I hope the daily haikus have kept you inspired during the absence of my longer posts. I will do all I can to get back on my Monday-Thursday Schedule. See You next time!


Yvonne Whitelaw  writes for Yvonnewhitelaw.com where she blogs about her quest to grow into her ideals in her “Live Your Ideals Project”. By sharing her Daily Haikus (#InspirationRx) and lessons along the way (Mondays and Thursdays), she hopes to serve and inspire a tribe of wholehearted idealists like you, to “live your ideals, thrive in your calling and change the world.”

Abundance (Part 5) – Diligence, Prudence and Taking Responsibility for your wealth

“If we command our wealth, we shall be rich and free. If our wealth commands us, we are poor indeed.”
Edmund Burke



Few topics bring up a charge like money.  Damned if you have it, damned if you don’t…

Those who have it either pretend not to have it or throw it around brashly and expecting special treatment. I have special admiration for the philanthropic because they have discovered the secret to true wealth…  Service. Your money is a tool and an avenue of service to do good in the world.

Those who don’t have money either spend their days obsessing, wishing they had money or cursing those who have it. I have a special admiration for the poor who are content because they have also discovered the secret to true wealth…. Contentment –  knowing  that you  have everything you need and if a need arose, God would provide for you.

And then there are the rest of us mortals in the middle, vacillating between scarcity and abundance, covetousness and contentment, stinginess and generosity, selfishness and service,  complaints and gratitude and so on.

Speaking to diligence and prudence, I began writing this post 4 months ago but kept getting stuck. I felt I had so much to learn that I decided not to publish until I had the grace to do so.

The question for me is how does one go from not caring about money at all to suddenly thinking about it all the time? And how does one cultivate the right attitude about what one  does have?

Knowing this answer is how you know you  have finally grown up.

For me, one of the consequences of leaving medicine was the fact that I became saddled with heavy student loan debt for a massively important degree that is useful for very little if you do not finish residency. Incidentally, heavy student loan debt is the #1 reason many doctors feel trapped and powerless in today’s culture of assembly-line medicine. Even though it isn’t what they signed up for, physicians and many other helping professionals have to keep working on the verge of burnout to pay off their student loans. But I digress… I will save this soap box for another day.

Even worse  for me  was having to prove I was still relevant with  the acquisition of another degree- a master of public health, thus incurring more debt.

I really blew it. By doing what I thought was right, I put myself in a disastrous predicament.  And soon it was time to dig myself and my family out.

The sense of responsibility attached to money can be overwhelming…  And even so, many do not talk about money and internalize the sense of overwhelm and anxiety they experience. I am committed to being transparent about my struggles if it will save someone else the pain of making the mistakes I made.

Even though I would work even harder than I had in medical school,  the recession meant barren job hunts. And feeling the stress of limited options,  I looked at my life and decided to answer the calling I was feeling in my life. It meant more trainings as a coach and facilitator to do  what I loved – helping people live the ideals they are called to live and thrive in their own lives. Indeed, nothing energizes me more.

With these preparations for the work, came more spending even as I pledged to be more prudent with how I spent money. Thankfully I have never been much of a shopper…  As a woman of simple needs and tastes,  retail therapy was never my thing. Though I must admit, I am a little dangerous in a bookstore.

Most of my life, I never really thought about money. I was not rich but I never really wanted for anything. It’s a testament to the culture I grew up in.  Everyone took care of the other in a “mi casa, su casa” kind of way.

However, I was always aware of the kids who had less that I did. They were poor with worn out and tattered clothes but always with a sparkle in their eye…

Interestingly, now that I think of it, when I was younger,  the rich never seemed particularly happy, just busy… And I think, I might have gotten some misunderstood cues from them… In retrospect, I realize that because of the culture I had been surrounded by, I had misunderstood many things about money. Now, I have learned  to have the right mindset about it.

The thing is, if I choose to be poor, I will find it challenging to be useful to the people I am called to serve. If I continue to exercise diligence, became more prudent with my choices and took responsibility fo the wealth I have been given, then, I can use my wealth to create a positive impact in the world. The first time I heard this idea (from Jay-Z no less), I was repulsed. But now I get it.

There is a reason why Oprah is a huge influence on me. She is a humanitarian who has done tremendous good in the world. I have a humanitarian streak. In college, even though I was broke, I sponsored a child through World vision. I have always been passionate about service and giving. And I now understand that this part of my personality is for a reason. Being altruistic is not a silly shallow pollyanish endeavor. It means taking a hard look at the facts – looking at the dire circumstances people find themselves in and choosing to do good.

Money is a useful tool for making positive change in the world.

So, we need to be diligent. We are called to work the earth. Till the soil. We must work for food. If you don’t work, you can’t eat.

So what happens when you search for work and don’t find it?

You make better choices with what you do have. You choose to keep showing up and making the best of what you have been given.

One of the biggest paradigm shifts for me has been the concept of God giving us the ability to create wealth. In the end, it is not about how much we schmooze, it is the grace we are given to work the soil we are given and to harvest fruit… But you do have to show up and work.

Budgeting is not the sexiest subject  but to really embrace abundance , we must be wiling to take stock of where we are…

But we  have commit ourselves to valuing money, choosing to be rewarded for  hard work and not continue working for free. We are of no use to the ones who depend on us  if we continue working for free.

So, Take responsibility for your money. Let today be the day you stop hating money. I am not saying you show love money, but treat your finances with the respect. And pay your tithes.

Money in the end is energy. Just like you have to work out and eat to have energy, you have to be diligent to earn money.

Just as you have to watch who you spend your energy on, just as there are energy vampires out there, people who drain you. So are there  money vampires out there – habits and people who drain your money.

Put your money to work. Give. Tithe. Help others. Take full responsibility for how you spend your money.

It means moving in with the in-laws for a while. It means public school not private school. It means a stay-cation not a vacation.

On the surface, these appear to be difficult decisions. But using the lens of my values, my ideals of family, freedom and adventure, the decisions are a joy because they bring me in alignment with my ideals which serve my long term goals for the future.

In the end, it isn’t about the money. Money is energy. It is how you choose to use the energy you have been given. I am a steward – When I die I won’t be able to take anything with me. nothing at all. What can I do? I can honor God with my relationships, the kind of energy I put out into the world and then see what happens. I know that i would not be able to do anything that is of worth if I didn’t pay attention to the energy I was expending.

And that means diligently working at optimizing my energy in terms of generating energy or income, being prudent about how I spend that energy and taking responsibility for all decisions around it rather that sleepwalking through my life.

So how about you? See you next time!

Cultivating Abundance via Diligence, Prudence and Responsibility for your wealth:

1. How are you using your energy? How are you using the money you have?

2. Are you content? Grateful? How do you feel about your current financial affairs?

3. What role does money play in your relationships?

4. Are you wasting your energy? Spending so much, eating out, using that energy to impress those who could care less?

5. Are you generous with your money? Is it a tool to help others or something to hoard?

6. Do you tithe?

7. What are your financial goals and dreams?


Money doesn’t have to be a drag. Thinking and talking about money as energy can be liberating. We can do hard things. Choose to make the difficult choices now so that you can have the life you want for you and the ones you love. You can do it and you are not alone! We are in this together. See you next time!


Yvonne Whitelaw  writes for Yvonnewhitelaw.com where she blogs about her quest to grow into her ideals in her “Live Your Ideals Project”. By sharing her Daily Haikus (#HaikuRx) and lessons along the way (usually Mondays and Thursdays), she hopes to serve and inspire a tribe of wholehearted idealists like you, to “live your ideals, thrive in your callings and change the world.”