I met my wife doing Edmund Rice Camps with the Christian Brothers. We spent university holidays with disadvantaged children on camps. We would try to instil a sense of belonging among kids whose everyday life was full of turmoil.
I remember one camp where we embarked on long and arduous bushwalks. I led a group of boys who couldn't stop whingeing the whole time. They wanted their PlayStations, they wanted to go to McDonalds, it was probably easier to move a container ship stuck in the Suez Canal than to get them up and walk another mile.
By the end of the week I was glad to see the back of the little brats. I was surprised then to see them return on the next trip. They were super excited to be there and couldn't stop talking about how much they enjoyed the last camp. They were changed kids.
To forge steel, iron is hammered with tremendous force to drive out impurities. Likewise, we better ourselves when we put ourselves under stress. When we take ourselves out of our comfort zone, we reset what we can withstand.
I am about to embark on another such testing exercise as I am being told to undergo mandatory empathy training. To me it sounds like one of Dante's circles of hell.
Until the last week I had never heard of empathy training. So I did some research.
Katherine Teh is apparently an empathy trainer and she recently explained to ABC Radio Brisbane what this was all about. Katherine's company was recently paid $200,000 to conduct empathy training for the Department of Infrastructure.
Among other things Katherine explained that "we train people to listen, and there are 5 different levels of listening, interpret how people feel which is understanding what triggers their emotional reactions."
And speaking of triggers I reacted, as a tall, white male, when I heard this empathy trainer go on to explain that "those that are white, tall men get paid more to have better access. They are used to life in the easy lane in a way ... If you're indigenous, if you're culturally, linguistically diverse, if you're neuro-diverse, all of those things make your perspective around the struggles of your life more challenging than it is for someone who has had it easy."
How is this anything but bigotry? Here we have someone, who apparently specialises in empathy, making a racist statement that white, tall men "have it easy".
Many women have suffered shocking harassment and victimisation. But the answer to sexism is not more sexism with a bit of racism thrown in. We are not going to improve outcomes for women by denigrating all men.
Rather than making sweeping generalisations about others based on their sex or skin colour, we should instead rediscover the grace to recognise that we all have our cross to bear.
As Galatians says "There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus."
This weekend we celebrate another Christian principle of sacrifice. Those kids I camped with sacrificed a lazy holiday to rough it in the bush. Their sacrifice improved their attitude and their lives.
Jesus made the ultimate sacrifice for us by willingly dying in the most humiliating and painful way. I believe he rose again on the third day, but you don't have to believe that, to understand that it is love, forgiveness and sacrifice, not blame and victimisation, that will improve our fallen, modern society.
I am not sure that the empathy trainers in our midst have learnt that lesson.