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Just Like Me

The radio announcer's voice, mellow and moderated, speaks of a study Stanford researchers are conducting regarding post traumatic stress disorder and coping mechanisms. A group of patients, veterans young and old, of wars long-past and current, have gathered in Menlo Park, California where they focus in on meditation expert Leah Weiss's directions, issued in a voice equally mellow and moderated, to slowly take three deep breaths—in through the nose, out through the mouth.

Weiss has been leading these guided meditations for more than a year now. She directs the men to think of a person they care about, a family member or a friend, and to bring that person close to them. "Allow yourself to feel the presence of this person," she says. This alone is an exercise in will. These soldiers, though no longer in combat, still bear the marks of their training—the heightened sense of alert that any person at any time may represent a threat. Thus, in the civilian world, making friendships and holding intimate relationships has become difficult. There is a self-imposed distance. Through meditation, the soldiers challenge themselves to close that gap. As they each visualize their chosen family member or friend, Weiss intones the soldiers' meditation mantra, "That person is just like me." Whomever that person may be, Weiss says, "Consider that, just like me, this person's had ups and downs in his or her life. Just like me, this person's had goals and dreams."

"Just like me." It's a phrase that we typically reserve for a select few. As a society, we like labels. We are drawn to parse data, divide friends from foes, black from white, rich from poor, educated to uneducated, increment by increment separating ourselves from others. Only when we have delineated the population, chosen who we feel to mirror our circumstances, experiences, interests and values, do we finally issue with great aplomb the discerning decree, "That person is just like me." But these veteran soldiers are learning how to think otherwise and bring empathy and compassion back to their sense of humanity. "The idea, of you saying, 'just like me,' that does a lot for me in a sense because I know how I'd like to be treated or how I want to feel," says one of the Vietnam vets.

His observation echoes The Golden Rule—do unto others as you would have them do unto you. It seems so simple. Yet time and again we forget, or worse, chose to do otherwise. It must not take the suffering of a trauma and the retraining of our subconscious to see that people of all kinds are "just like me" and that we are just (only) people. We will receive only what we are willing to give.

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