05/13/2013 12:52 pm ET Updated Jul 13, 2013

The Pain of Others

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Julia Ward Howe, who authored the Mother's Day Proclamation of 1870, called on women of all nations to rise up and disarm the world, so that no mothers should feel the pain of seeing their children killed or maimed: "We, the women of one country, will be too tender of those of another country to allow our sons to be trained to injure theirs."

But how can we learn to be so tender? As a nation, we seem to be able to feel -- to some degree, for short bits of time -- the pain that some people feel when their children are hurt through acts of violence and war. This was evident in responses to the Newtown massacre and the Boston bombings.

How can we feel not just the pain of mothers who look like people we love, or who live in places that look like places we know, but the pain of all people everywhere -- including our presumed enemies?

The more social distance we feel, the less we feel the pain of others.

I teach a class to undergraduates on how to conduct ethnographic research. Ethnography is about understanding the lived experiences of other people. It's about stepping out of our own perspectives and seeing the world through others' eyes.

Most of the undergraduates I teach will not go on to be professional ethnographers. But I hope that they will learn something about suspending their own viewpoints long enough to see the world in new ways. Because if we can see through others' eyes, and understand their lives and experiences, perhaps we will feel their pain.

I took inspiration from Julia Ward Howes this Mother's Day, and found ways to see -- and feel -- the pain of all weeping mothers all around the world. Mothers in Newton, Connecticut. Boston, Massachusetts. Iraq. Afghanastan. Everywhere in the world where violence tragically asserts itself, and wars rage.

Let's make every day Mother's Day, and reaffirm the Mother's Day Proclamation, with a call to end all wars.