Sometimes words just don't do it. Sometimes you need pictures. Sometimes you have to be there. That's when film and photography serve our spiritual lives. Because a good movie and a striking picture can take us to another place and give us an experience we might never have otherwise.

In this Spiritual Literacy in Wartime article, first published in February 2003, we want to work with practices to encourage empathy with children in Iraq. According to UNICEF, half of Iraq's 25 million people are children. How much do we know about the lives of these 12 million vulnerable ones? How can we develop our capacity to connect with them and with other victims and potential victims in our wartime world?

Empathy involves being aware of and sensitive to the feelings and situation of another person so that you have an experience of life as that person would know it. Although this is difficult to do with peoples of other ages, lands, and cultures, we need to develop our ability to empathize if we are to truly live out of an awareness of one-world consciousness.

Book Excerpts

  • From the book The Power of Empathy
    Arthur P. Ciaramicoli and Katherine Ketcham on How Empathy Leads to Tolerance
    The authors believe that empathy is a teachable skill that enables us to "build bridges to others who seem so unlike us." It enables us to see connections, making strangers less strange, foreigners less foreign. It requires a willingness to listen and a desire to understand the broader context of another's life.


A good story that reveals universal human emotions encourages the development of empathy. We have long felt that anyone who has seen the films about children coming out of contemporary Iran would question any public policy that puts them — or any other group of children — in danger. We encourage you to rent the DVDs or videos of these movies. They may be the closest you can get to seeing daily life from the perspective of a child in the Middle East.

  • Children of Heaven
    You know the phrase often used to describe empathy — walking in another's shoes. This movie couldn't be more on theme! When nine-year-old Ali loses the shoes of his younger sister Zahra, the two children have to share one pair of worn-out sneakers — she wears them to school in the morning; he wears them in the afternoon. Watching these children, we can empathize with their faithfulness to each other and their determination to make do despite difficulty.
  • The White Balloon
    Razieh, a determined seven-year-old, has her heart set on purchasing a goldfish for the New Year's celebration. But after she finally talks her mother into giving her the money, she drops the bill down a grate on the way to the market. As she goes through a variety of emotions — surprise, frustration, despair, hope — we find that we are caught up in her dilemma and recognize what she is feeling.
  • The Color of Paradise
    Eight-year-old Mohammad is blind and unloved by his widowed father, a poor coal worker. The boy has learned to make the most of his situation by tuning in to his senses and appreciating the little blessings of life — a walk in a field of flowers, listening for the call of a bird. Mohammad sees with the eyes of his heart, and watching his story, we find that we are doing the same thing. This is the essence of empathy.

Spiritual Practices

For empathy practice, we have created a gallery of photographs of Iraqi children.
Quiet yourself and slowly click through the photographs. Choose one that "speaks" to you. Just gaze at the photograph for a few minutes. Then ask yourself: What would it be like to be in this child's shoes — to see our world through his or her eyes — to have the kinds of feelings this child might be having right now — to experience what this child is experiencing?

Photographs 1 - 6 are graciously provided by the Dominican Delegations to Iraq. The last photograph, taken during a National Council of Churches delegation to Iraq, appears courtesy of Robin Hoecker, who has created an online gallery with hundreds of photographs of Iraq today.

View the Children of Iraq Gallery