My Fifth Grade Teacher
Pres. Obama (Archives)

High school physics, and empathy

My 12th grade physics teacher, Mr. Loewer, taught me about how the world works. He explained the various laws and properties that govern the objects in our physical space.

He explained, one afternoon, that describing motion is relative to the point of reference. I’ll never forget the example of shooting a cannonball 60mph from the bed of a truck going 60mph. From the perspective of the truck, the cannonball is going 60mph in the opposite direction, but from the perspective of someone on the side of the road, the cannonball drops straight to the ground. It’s actually pretty cool to watch.

After his lesson, however, he casually mentioned how life is similar. The same thing can appear totally different from a different reference point.

He was actually teaching us about empathy. I didn’t realize it then but I realized it many years later. To this day, when I find myself judging someone else, I think about the cannonball dropping to the ground and I realize I’m only seeing things from one perspective.

That’s a lesson I’ll always be grateful for and never forget.

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