Like most Americans, I awoke March 11 to the news that Japan had been rocked and rolled by a disastrous earthquake and subsequent devastating tsunami. The loss of life and destruction of property will likely be calculated for days and even weeks to come.

Tragedy like that experienced in Japan is nothing new. The past few years have seen natural disasters all over the globe. It was Jesus who pointed out that rain does not discriminate; it falls on everyone.

The majority of us are far removed from the reality the people of Japan now face. For months to come — perhaps even years — their hearts, minds and schedules will be filled with grief, mourning, clean-up, rebuilding and readjustment.

So what is an appropriate response by those of us who stand on the outside looking in at those awash in tragedy? Do we simply feel pity? Be grateful that we were spared? Spout spiritual clichés in an effort to sound spiritual?

One place to begin is to cultivate empathy for those in tragic circumstances. In a world saturated by media and news that tends to accentuate the bad, it is easy to forget that the faces on the screen are real, flesh-and-blood human beings.

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