What Ever Did We Do before the Invention of Empathy? and Prince Philip’s Confession in “The Crown”

Did you know there once was a time when empathy didn’t exist in the English-speaking world. During that time, all those poor souls lived in a “Dark Age” of feelings in which they had only sympathy to rely on when faced with others’ pain. It wasn’t until the early 1900s that the word empathy was imported from Germany to save us from our uncaring detachment. As I wrote in “Empathy: A Ladder into Dark Places“:

Empathy . . . is a relatively new term, introduced into the English language by psychologist Edward Bradford Titchener in 1909. Titchener got the idea for empathy from einfühlung, a German word crafted 50 years earlier to describe a form of art appreciation based on projecting one’s personality into the art being viewed—thus, “a feeling in.”

Of course, I jest. Before 1909, our forebears did just fine commiserating with each other. In fact, here’s a passage on that point from a sermon by the British preacher Charles Spurgeon, delivered in 1890:

When a person who has been very despondent comes out into comfort, he should look out for desponding spirits and use his own experience as a cordial to the fainting. I do not think that I ever feel so much at home in any work as when I am trying to encourage a heart which is on the verge of despair, for I have been in that plight myself. It is a high honor to nurse our Lord’s wounded children. It is a great gift to have learned by experience how to sympathize. “Ah!” I say to them, “I have been where you are!” They look at me and their eyes say, “No, surely you never felt as we do.” I therefore go further, and say, “If you feel worse than I did, I pity you, indeed, for I could say with Job, ‘My soul chooses strangling rather than life.’ I could readily enough have laid violent hands upon myself to escape from my misery of spirit.”

Spurgeon’s “sympathize” certainly seems like what we call “empathize” today. Again, in my post, referring to Brené Brown’s saying that “sympathy drives disconnection” while empathy is “feeling with people,” I wrote that that second definition

actually sounds to me like a good description of sympathy. In fact, when the word sympathy came about over 400 years ago, it was from the Greek sin, “together,” plus pathos, “feeling.” . . . in other words, a “feeling together.”

It makes me think of the joke What did people used to call organic, non-GMO food? Answer: Food.

So what did people used to call sympathy that was filled with empathetic feelings? Answer: Sympathy.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m a big fan of empathy. It’s just that I’m a defender of sympathy, too. Empathy isn’t a special, emotionally gymnastic form of sympathy. Rather, it’s genuine sympathy, in a world where the concept of basic sympathy is too often seen as condescending or false. That’s why you’ll hear people say, “I don’t need your sympathy!” But it’s also true that most don’t mind getting a “sympathy card” in the mail. In fact, if you sent them an “empathy card,” they’d probably think you presumptuous.

With all that said, I’d like to present a wonderful expression of sympathy. It’s from Netflix’s The Crown, season three, in an episode titled “Moondust.”

It comes in two short monologues given by the character Prince Philip. (I say “character” because while The Crown is based on the lives of the royal family, it’s still a work of fiction.) Actually, the first doesn’t express sympathy at all, but it sets the stage for what is to come.

In “Moondust,” Prince Philip has just watched the 1969 moon landing on TV and is enamored with the American heroes of Apollo 11 . . . enamored, and envious, and agitated, as well. It is under this circumstance that Robin Woods, the newly appointed Dean of Windsor, invites him to meet some priests who have gathered at St. George’s House. As Prince Philip listens to the weary clergymen share their discouragements, with one grading his life accomplishments a D minus, Dean Wood’s asks Prince Philip for his thoughts. He responds,

I’ll tell you what I think. I’ve never heard such a load of pretentious, self-piteous nonsense. What you lot need to do is to get off your backsides, get out into the world, and bloody well do something. That is why you are all so . . . so lost. I believe that there is an imperative within man, all men, to make a mark. Action is what defines us. Action, not suffering. All this sitting around thinking and talking, I . . . Let me ask you this: Do you think those astronauts up there are catatonic like you lot? Of course not. They are too busy achieving something spectacular. And as a result, they are at one with the world, and one with their God, and happy. That’s my advice. Model yourselves on men of action, like Armstrong, Aldrin, Collins. I mean, these men score A triple plus. They’ve got the answers, not a bunch of navel-gazing underachievers infecting one another with gaseous doom. 

I must say that the circle of men reminds me of groups of cross-cultural workers I’ve been in, coming together to share our wounds. But Prince Philip doesn’t identify with that kind of gathering. He’s a man of action, not a pitiful navel-gazer. No, being a pilot, he sees himself as a comrade with the astronauts. So he arranges a personal visit with them when they come to London. But his high hopes for conversing with greatness are dashed when, alone with the three, he finds them to be shallow and uncurious about life’s bigger questions. “They delivered as astronauts,” he tells the queen, “but disappointed as human beings.”

He later returns to St. George’s, to the circle of priests, but this time with a new sense of belonging, a newly discovered kinship with other men who are facing mid-life crises—though he can only bring himself to say “that crisis”:

And of course one’s read or heard about other people hitting that crisis, and, you know, just like them, you look in all the usual places, resort to all the usual things to try and make yourself feel better. Uh . . . some of which I can admit to in this room, and some of which I probably shouldn’t.

My mother died recently. She . . . she saw that something was amiss. It’s a good word, that a . . . a-amiss. She saw that something was missing in her youngest child, her only son. . . . Faith. ”How’s your faith?” she asked me. I’m here to admit to you that . . . I’ve lost it. And without it, what is there? The . . . the loneliness and emptiness and anticlimax of going all that way to the moon to find nothing but haunting desolation, ghostly silence, gloom. That is what faithlessness is. As opposed to finding wonder, ecstasy, the miracle of divine creation, God’s design and purpose. What am I trying to say? I’m trying to say that the solution to our problems, I think, is not in the ingenuity of the rocket, or the science or the technology or even the bravery. No, the answer is in here [points to head], or here [points to chest], or wherever it is that . . . that faith resides.

And so, Dean Woods, having ridiculed you for what you and these poor blocked, lost souls  . . .[laughs] . . . were . . . were trying to achieve here in St. George’s House, I now find myself full of respect and admiration and not a small part of desperation . . . as I come to say, . . . “Help. . . . Help me.”

Notes after the episode inform us “For over fifty years St. George’s House has been a centre for the exploration of faith and philosophy. Its success is one of the achievements of which Prince Philip is most proud.”

Prince Philip, Duke of Edinburgh (1921-2021).

(Charles Spurgeon, “The Shank-bone Sermon—Or, True Believers and Their Helpers” March 23, 1890; “Moondust,” The Crown, created by Peter Morgan, season 3, episode 7, Netflix, 2019)

[photo: “Earth over the Moon – Apollo 11,” by Kevin Gill, used under a Creative Commons license]

When Cruise Ships Are Dismantled and the Waldorf Astoria is Remodeled, Vacations are Sold One Piece at a Time

Stuff for Sale Here

You’ve heard of an elephants’ graveyard. Recently, CNN’s Francesca Street wrote about a cruise-ships’ graveyard in Aliaga, Turkey. That’s one of the places where, it seems, that ocean liners go to die. It’s an eloquently written article, with rather dramatic photos to boot.

I’ve picked out a few lines from “Cruise Ships Torn Apart after Coronavirus Sell Off” for some “found poetry”:

On the beach,
once-gleaming vessels
lie dilapidated,
their innards exposed,
barely recognizable
from their seafaring glory days.

zombie cruise liners—
half impressive vessel,
and half skeleton and debris

“Armageddon
or something out of a science fiction movie”

“fascinating and heartbreaking”

And here’s a news spot from Reuters showing the deconstruction. The voiceover is informative, but I think the video would be better accompanied by some dramatic, haunting orchestral music.

Back to Street, she writes,

Once a cruise ship arrives at Aliaga, the vessel is torn apart. Everything inside must be removed, from the furniture to the bathrooms. Interior items may end up sold locally to business owners or collectors.

That would be some yard sale to attend.

But if you’re not heading to Turkey and a memento from a floating hotel is, therefore, out of reach, maybe you’d like to purchase something from a stationary hotel—a luxury hotel—from none other than Park Avenue’s Waldorf Astoria Hotel.

The internationally known five-star Waldorf Astoria was purchased in 2014 by the China-based Anbang Insurance Group for $1.95 billion and then closed in 2017 to undertake a $1 billion renovation. The result is the auctioning off of over 15,000 pieces of furniture, fixtures, and room decorations, with proceeds going towards renovating the properties of St. Bartholomew’s Church and Community House, next door.

Yes, the Silver City Galleria mall in Taunton, Massachusetts, where the items are on display, may be closer to you than Aliaga, but it still may be too far to travel. If that’s the case, then head over virtually to Kaminski Auctions to bid on nearly 1,000 items online.

Over the years, the Waldorf Astoria has provided residence for movie stars, US presidents, and foreign royalty, with their names gracing the suites in which they lived. That means you have the opportunity to own a bookcase from the Marilyn Monroe Suite, an electric fireplace from the Emir of Kuwait Suite, trash cans from the Elizabeth Taylor Suite, the door from the President Herbert Hoover Suite, and drapes from the Cole Porter Suite. The item garnering the highest bid so far? That would be the Saudi Arabian Suite’s baby grand piano. The Steinway and Sons Model M is currently at $22,000.

But if you’re interested, you’d better jump in. Live bidding starts October 17.

(Francesca Street, Cruise Ships Torn Apart after Coronavirus Sell Off, CNN, October 7, 2020; Carlie Porterfield, “Waldorf Astoria Will Auction Off Thousands of Hotel Furnishings,” Forbes, October 7, 2020)

[photo: “Stuff for Sale Here,” by David Hepburn, used under a Creative Commons license]

Sing to the Lord, All the Earth

Sing to the Lord a new song;
    sing to the Lord, all the earth.
Sing to the Lord, praise his name;
    proclaim his salvation day after day.
Declare his glory among the nations,
    his marvelous deeds among all peoples. (Psalm 96:1-3 NIV)

[photo: “Vedere i campi di lavanda,” by Adamo George, used under a Creative Commons license]

Flowers, 2, 3, 4

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“The Netherlands’ Huge Flower Sector Wilts as Coronavirus Hurts Business”

The Netherlands accounts for nearly half of the world trade in floriculture products and 77% of flower bulbs sold globally. Top destinations usually include Germany, the U.K., France and Italy. The Dutch exports overall are valued at $6.7 billion and the sector accounts for about 5% of the country’s gross domestic product, according to [Royal FloraHolland’s Michael] van Schie.

Now revenue has dropped by 85% since last month, the cooperative spokesman says.

. . . . .

The decline comes as the Netherlands battles the rapid spread of the coronavirus. As of Tuesday, 276 people have died in the Netherlands from COVID-19, the disease caused by the virus, and the country has identified 5,560 cases of infection.

The Netherlands isn’t the only country whose flower sector is suffering. Kenya and Ethiopia are also important producers of roses, van Schie says. In Kenya, flowers are the second-largest source of currency after remittances. Seventy percent of cut flowers from Kenya are sold to Europe, most through an auction in the Netherlands. Farmers there are leaving their roses to rot.

[photo: “|1|2|3|4|5|6|7|8|,” by Gerry Dincher, used under a Creative Commons license]

The Serendipity of Juggling

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Entertainer Michael Davis used to begin his act with this line: “They say a comic says funny things, but a comedian says things funny. This makes me a juggler.”

Truth is, we’re all jugglers of some sort, trying to balance multiple roles in life, keeping all the plates spinning and the balls in the air. That’s the way it’s always been, and, I’m sure, always will be.

But when it comes to the pastime (or career) of juggling, things have changed over time, as pointed out in this TEDx Talk by Jay Gilligan:

Gilligan, who’s juggled for 28 years, tells (and shows) the differences between American/Western juggling—with its symmetry and repetition—and Scandanavian/European juggling—which features asymmetry and lots of starts and stops.

From there he goes on to talk about the origins of juggling rings. Have you5624263331_e9c6f4a320_w ever wondered why juggling rings are the size they are? Giligan has. And he found the answer from his friend and fellow juggler, Dave Finnigan. In 1976, Finnigan, also known as Professor Confidence, wanted to find a place in Asia for making juggling props, so he visited a plastic fabrication factory in Taiwan. While describing the rings to the factory owner, Mr. Tsai, he grabbed a cookie tin from Mr. Tsai’s desk. He drew a circle around it and then used “another round item” to draw a smaller circle inside. This became their template. The cookie tin happened to be about 13 inches across.

Tada!

Juggler and juggling historian David Cain adds to the story, locating the factory in the south-Taiwan city of Tainan and writing that the original rings were later fine tuned by expanding the hole inside. He quotes Finnigan as saying, “When jugglers complained that the ring would not easily fit over their heads, we came up with the white ring the next year, so it would fit over the head of the jugglers.”

Speaking of innovation, juggler Michael Moschen is so innovative that in 1990 he was named a MacArthur Fellow, receiving a “genius grant” from the  foundation. In the early TED Talk below, Moschen shows off his creativity and delves into what I would call the “philosophy” of juggling. At 19:24, he juggles inside a triangle, and at 25:50 he uses a single ball to give a short introduction to “contact juggling,” which became one of his specialties.

If you’re not completely sure what contact juggling is, let’s go back to Taiwan and watch Zheng Jhe demonstrate his skills. Relax and enjoy.

(David Cain, “Juggling Rings: Their History, Development, and Innovation—Part I,” International Jugglers’ Association, October 9, 2016)

[photos: Juggling,” by Shabai Liu, used under a Creative Commons license; “Ring Toss,” by Ahd Photography, used under a Creative Commons license]

Bellerby Globemakers: It All Started when He Needed a Gift for His Father

Bellerby's Egg Globe
Bellerby’s Egg Globe

I last posted a Bellerby & Co video a year ago. So it must be time to post some more . . . because those Bellerby videos, they just keep a comin’.

This first one is from the annual EG Conference for creatives, in which Peter Bellerby tells the full story of how he became a maker of globes.

The next shows the craftsmanship that went into the creating of a globe for Royal Ascot’s “World Like Nowhere Else” campaign.

And finally, in this video we get to hear from a couple artisans behind the scenes. (By the way, that really, really big globe that they’re making—it’s the Churchill. It’s 50 inches in diameter and costs £79,000, or about US$99,000. But if you want one, you’ll need to act quickly, as they’re only making 40, and you have to wait a year before delivery.

So, would you like to join the Bellerby team? From the company’s hiring page (actually, right now, it’s more of a we’re-not-currently-hiring page), here’s a list of “personal qualities we look for.” It’s not at all a bad set of skills to have on hand:

  • Patience is the most important thing in globe-making!
  • You will incorrectly make a globe every day for 6 months, you could then do one perfect and then next 10 will still fail. You have to not get easily frustrated and be stubborn and passionate about the role to get it right & not want to give up . . . it is a long learning process.
  • Light with hands and aware of space around you. You are working around a lot of delicate items.
  • Nimble fingers . . . good with precise cutting with a scalpel/blade.
  • Work well as a team and work well in a SMALL team.
  • Though a very social family-like atmosphere, the studio is very quiet most for long periods of time as each role takes concentration. You must like a very serene environment—it will be the opposite of a normal office job for most.
  • Quick to learn and eager to take on new responsibilities and learn new skills.
  • Good communication, hard worker, not afraid to get your hands dirty, capable of multi-tasking. . . .
  • Keep a clean, tidy and organised work space.

[photo: “The Big Egg Hunt NY: Egg 3,” by gigi_nyc, used under a Creative Commons license]

Speculoos Cookie Butter: A Little Bit of Air Travel in a Jar

Delta cookie

Sometimes the choices at the grocery store can get downright overwhelming. Take, for instance, the butter section. I’m not talking about butter butter and I-Can’t-Believe-It’s-Not-Butter butter.

No, I’m talking about the I-can’t-believe-there-are-so-many-alternatives-to-peanut-butter butter. A recent trip to the grocery store (and a follow-up search on the web) introduced me to almond butter, pistachio butter, walnut butter, brazil-nut butter, cashew butter, pecan butter, hazelnut butter, macadamia-nut butter, sesame-seed butter, pumpkin-seed butter, sunflower-seed butter, coconut butter, granola butter, and soy butter.

And then there’s the last-but-not-least variety I haven’t gotten to yet, the one that got me looking in the first place, the one that a coworker brought to work to have us try . . . speculoos cookie butter.

This butter variation is made from crushed speculoos—European shortbread—cookies. If that doesn’t ring a bell, think of the Biscoff cookies you get as an in-flight snack. Oh, the flavor. Oh, the memories.

If you’re looking for speculoos cookie butter in the US grocery aisle, start with Lotus Biscoff Cookie Butter or Trader Joe’s Speculoos Cookie Butter or Wal-Mart’s Great Value Speculoos Cookie Butter. And if you’re more of a DIYer, you can make your own.

Eat a spoonful of speculoos cookie butter and the flavor will transport you to a seat on a flight transporting you to a life-changing destination. But don’t limit it to a spoon topping. Try it on waffles, toast, ice cream . . . or Biscoff Cookies. And there are tons of recipes online with cookie butter as an ingredient.

Need more inspiration? Take a look at these websites and videos. And there’s a lot more out there. When it comes to speculoos cookie butter, the sky’s the limit.

50 Ways to Use Trader Joe’s Speculoos Cookie Butter

30 Incredible Desserts to Make with Cookie Butter, the World’s Most Addictive Spread

25 Cookie Butter Recipes to Make ASAP

[photo: “IMG_9255,” by adaenn, used under a Creative Commons license]

Leeches on a Plane, and in Other Sundry Places

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For most people, an uneventful international flight is a good international flight. That wasn’t the case for Ontario native Ippolit Bodounov when he traveled from Russia to Canada last October. His problems started when a Canada Border Services Agency beagle sniffed out a strange scent in his luggage. Actually, his problems started pre flight, when he decided to load a grocery bag with 4,788 wild leeches and put it in his carry on.

Bodounov’s story made the rounds last year when he was caught, and then again in May when he was fined C$15,000 for the illegal importation. Importing leeches, in and of itself, isn’t wrong—they’re often used for medicinal purposes (their saliva contains blood thinners, anti-clotting agents, blood-vessel dilators, and an anesthetic). But the species of leeches brought in by Bodounov are internationally regulated and he lacked the necessary permits. So remember that the next time you think about . . . nah, just forget it.

Hearing about leeches brought to my mind a passage in the book Exodus to a Hidden Valley, which tells the story of the Morse family, missionaries to the Lisu in Burma. They were ordered by the military government to leave the country by the end of December 1965, but rather than leave the Lisu behind, the Morses relocated to a remote area in Burma near the Indian border, away from government control. In describing their trek through the jungle, Eugene Morse writes,

There is no really effective weapon against the leech, Instead of keeping them away, bundling up often tends to hide leeches from your sight. During the rains we learned that even wearing shoes can be a hazard, because leeches hiding in a shoe can turn your foot into a bloody mess before you feel their bite. Leeches dread fire and ashes, and many American British soldiers virtually chain-smoked their way through the Burma campaign of World War II in an effort to keep them at bay. But we learned the Lisu technique of scraping them off with a sharp machete, a process that had to be repeated every few minutes to keep them from sucking blood. On one occasion my brother Robert helped his wife scrape 102 leeches off just one of her legs after she had been walking only five minutes. The mobility of these wormlike creatures is incredible. You can look at what seems to be a totally quiet area of jungle foliage, wave your hand, and suddenly find leeches crawling out from under every leaf, where they have been hiding from the rain. They almost seem to jump the last half inch or so to reach any available piece of warm flesh. If a man opens his fly to relieve himself along a jungle trail, later he will very likely find that at least two or three leeches have managed to make their way to his groin.

Once a leech has attached itself to you, it injects an anticoagulant into the surrounding area of flesh. It drinks until it swells up like a miniature sausage and then falls off. But because of the anticoagulant, you continue to bleed, and anybody who gets a number of leech bites is likely to suffer seriously from loss of blood. Nobody who has lived in the jungle during the rainy season underestimates the danger of leeches or ignores the importance of seeing to it that everything, from houses to latrines and other buildings, is made as leech proof as possible.

In the jungle opening one’s fly can be dangerous. Got it. But as it turns out, opening one’s mouth—or nose—can be risky, too. In 2017, a young Australian man claimed that while eating a pre-packaged salad from a Coles supermarket, a leech attached itself to his tongue. And he has video evidence. “I tried to get it off with a fork,” he tells The Daily Mail Australia, “and it just exploded in my mouth.”

Want more visuals? A report in the Turkish Archives of Ortohinolaryngology shows a leech on the base of a young lady’s tongue, the result of drinking unfiltered spring water. BBC published photos of a leech removed from the nose of a backpacker from Edinburgh, who came back from Southeast Asia with the unwelcome souvenir, which had grown to three inches long over a month before the traveller realized what was going on. And a YouTube video shows the extraction of a veeeery large leech from the nostril of a man from southern China. It had possibly latched on while the man was swimming in a river.

All this got me wondering if anyone makes a habit of putting leeches in their mouths on purpose, as in, for food. From what I’ve found, the answer is a definitive Maybe. In season four of Dirty Jobs, host Mike Rowe spends time with some some leech trappers in Minnesota. After they walk him through the collection and sorting process of the soon-to-be bait, Rowe asks them if there’s anything else he needs to know. “We occasionally eat ’em,” one answers.

Rowe later asks Jason, son of one of the leech wranglers, “Now look, man. Be honest with me. Leeches, are they served in fine restaurants up here in northern Minnesota, or anywhere for that matter?”

“Not too much in the United States just because of the whole food standards and everything,” Jason replies, “but over in Asia, it’s good to go.” He then proceeds to de-vein some leeches and deep fry them. Jason and the cameraman eat some raw, while Rowe waits until they’re cooked, claiming, “You know what? It’s pretty good.”

“But over in Asia, it’s good to go.” Really? Actually, I’m thinking probably not. Asians do eat a lot of things that aren’t normally on Western menus, but it’s a too easy go-to to claim that they eat anything and everything.

In truth, if you’re looking for a good leech recipe, look no farther than Europe. In one episode of Heston’s Feasts, British chef Heston Blumenthal hears from a Transylvanian historian on how to prepare “leeches swollen in goose blood.” Good may be stretching it a bit. After sampling the chewy result, Blumenthal declares, “That’s just congealed goose blood with a leech-membrane casing, and that to me, no matter how I try and wrap that up, it’s not appetizing.”

Dina Fine Maron, “Why Was This Man’s Luggage Stuffed with 5,000 Leeches?National Geographic, February 10, 2019; “Leech Smuggling: Canada Fines Man after 4,700 Carried on Plane,” BBC News, May 28, 2019; Eugene Morse, Exodus to a Hidden Valley,  Reader’s Digest Press, 1974; Nic White and Josh Hanrahan, “Man Says He Found a LEECH in a Coles Salad—and Only Noticed when the Creature Attached Itself to His Tongue,” Daily Mail, January 14, 2017)

[photo: “Bush leech,” by Doug Beckers, used under a Creative Commons license]