Tag Archives: empathy

Be Kind: LISTEN

28 Oct

“There’s no bread or milk” my neighbor complained as we waited for the elevator in our Brooklyn building the morning after Hurricane Sandy hit. My first (and  second) reaction was disbelief – after all people less than a mile from us were flooded out, everything lost thanks to the Atlantic’s surge through Coney Island on it’s way to Manhattan. I’m sure I made sympathetic sounds while shaking my head. (Much) later though I realized that all those people sloshing through basements in their own disbelief might have made the same complaint the day before.

“Be Kind, for everyone you meet is fighting a hard battle.”

After all, our focus is always on the battle we’re currently engaged in. And that makes sense. We need all our energy to conquer our detractors each and every day. But are we so focused on our own battles we can’t also have kindness and empathy for others? I wonder about this more and more in the age of social media where we have to work so hard to get others attention.

“Be Kind, for everyone you meet is fighting a hard battle.”

I’ve always loved this quote (which I’ve seen attributed to Philo, Plato and even Socrates) as a way to keep empathy for others front and center. It’s a hard thing to do, since, well, we’re fighting our own battles and seem to need all our sympathy for ourselves. I realized this again when I broke my wrist this past year.

Having wrist surgery seems to be as common as getting a filling these days. Lucky for me though I’d gone six decades without a broken bone. That said you’re probably not feeling loads of sympathy for me, but if it helps, it happened in Ukraine where I was a Peace Corps Volunteer and about a week before I was scheduled to leave. And I had to travel in a cast that felt as heavy as my suitcase.

Jet-lagged, I arrived in the states simultaneously trying to find an orthopedic surgeon and feed my hunger for sympathy. The doctor I found, the sympathy, well…

I heard about others’ ordeals with broken wrists, some having spent a year with a broken bone, cancer, and more. Each person’s story was more tragic than the next. And certainly worthy of more sympathy than my own tiny broken bone. Each person battled getting ready for work with their arm in a cast, getting to work or to chemo, and more. True, my temporary disability left me feeling grateful that mine was indeed temporary, and yet, I also began feeling invisible and inconsequential, broken a bit physically and emotionally. I wasn’t battling a serious brokenness, but it was still a disability. When I cast aside my emotions I realized:

People desperately needed to be heard and to share their won battles: past and present. I began to wonder how much I’d listened to them during their fights. I felt sad realizing I probably hadn’t been as kind as I could have.  So there I was: sad I’d been unkind and miserable I couldn’t zip up my own coat (or pants for that matter).

I kept coming back to the same big THING: Listening! Really giving someone enough attention to say what’s on their mind and responding to it. Listening has become my complaint ‘cry’ of the year or rather the lack of listening. I don’t go on Facebook often, though it seems so many people are sharing verbal ‘posts’ about their current battles and victories and rewarded with likes and comments. If I’d shared my wrist progress on social media would I have gotten more ‘kindness’? Or is listening and two way conversations following rhinos into extinction? (other things that might become extinct in 2020)

Just the other other day I shared a thought with a housemate who responded with a totally unrelated digression. When I pointed out he obviously hadn’t listened he sang Simon and Garfunkel’s ‘Sound of Silence’: ‘People hearing without listening…’

Funny (but not really), this song written so many years ago is a reminder that while fashion changes, we as people, don’t change nearly as fast. OR, maybe this is just our human nature?

Optimistically, I think we humans have a superpower: the potential for change. We change habitat by moving across the street or world (which I do often).  Sadly, we are changing the habitat (our environmental crisis being the case in point).  And of course we can and do change our phenotype: the way we look and present ourselves to the world.

Changing behavior though is really hard – really, really, hard – and this is the time of year to do just that. Change to heal our ‘brokenness’ is the basis of the Jewish New Year and specifically on Yom Kippur. For this new year, I want to change – to be kinder. To listen. Really listen. To myself and to others.

To all I apologize, and, if I haven’t said it before: “Tell me more.” I’ll listen and support you in all your battles large and small.

Prevent Genocide and Bullying: 12 Ways to Swallow an Empathy Pill

23 Jul

Step 2 of 6… How Only you can prevent Bullying

How many pairs of shoes lurk in your closet and under the bed?

shoes lurking in DSW aisles - heaven for the shoe obsessed

shoes lurking in DSW aisles – heaven for the shoe obsessed

I know shoe obsession goes beyond Imelda Marcos and Carrie Bradshaw.  Not me.  I am foot challenged.

So while I don’t ‘get it’, I think I understand the foot ware obsession:

It’s hard walking a mile in our own shoes:  much less imagining what it’s like to walk in someone else’s.

Unable to walk that proverbial mile in another’s shoes, allows judgment to step in.  Suddenly, it’s harder to understand those blisters, bunions, corns, callous’s that fancy heel-wearer is sporting.

If only it were as easy to try on someone else's perspective!

If only it were as easy to try on someone else’s perspective!

Empathy, like a shoe-horn, slides you into someone else’s shoes.   But I wonder: do we want that kind of pain?  Even if  it’s the pain we can relate to?

It’s easier to look at ‘them’: unemployed, lonely, fired, depressed, awkward, broke, purposely different, fat, alone –  with disdain and distance.  It’s easier to acknowledge:  “That would never happen to ME!”

Like preventing the flu, keeping (emotional) distance is a preventative measure.

If you have to get close, perhaps you think ‘they’ deserve what they got.  Certainly they didn’t work or try hard enough.

It’s like those who said the Holocaust was the Jews fault:  they were too successful, wealthy, powerful.  OR the Tutsi’s had too much power and land.  OR the Armenians were Christians, not to mention well-educated compared to the Turks.  REALLY????

To be fair, genocide doesn’t start with a massacre.  It starts with one painful soul taking his/her frustration out on someone ‘safe’.  It starts with bullying.  ‘Someone’ others also resent.  ‘A different someone’ who thinks:  rather you than me.  Someone who doesn’t want to imagine how it feels to be the recipient of bullying.

Telling someone:  “well you need to:  (man up, lose weight, stop talking about ‘xxx’, get out there more, don’t be so aggressive, be more like you, be less like you)….”

or

“get over it”   is not what that person needs.  It’s what YOU need to keep YOU safe.

Preventing genocide and bullying is understanding and protecting another’s need for safety day-to-day.

That’s why I have always believed the pharmaceutical industry has missed the mark by not creating a magical pill:  an empathy pill.  A pill to offer the judgemental and  naive, the distant and disdainful of those who don’t like and don’t fit into other’s shoes.

When fear and the need to put someone else down overtakes us, we should all learn to say (to ourselves): ‘Here, have an empathy pill.’

Here, have an empathy pill: understand ME! This isn’t about YOU!” Though I’ve always imagined empathy pills shaped like pretty little colored shoes. For men, they can be black loafers and sneakers.  Get your prescription today!

These would be bitter pills to swallow because empathy is a toughie.

Do we really want to stop judging others and give up our safety?  Here are 12 things to consider:

  1. REALIZE you probably have NO idea what the other person is feeling.  Realize that knowing they are in ‘pain’ may be enough.
  2. DON’T say, “I know EXACTLY what you are going through, because do you really?  How can you?
  3. SHARE experiences that are similar but only later, just to let them know that they are not alone.
  4. ASK how you can help to make it better.  Listening helps.  Just listening – to them – not to yourself talking about yourself.
  5. ASK if it’s okay for you to offer a suggestion.  Don’t assume you know what someone else needs.
  6. ASK questions:  even if it’s just ‘tell me more’
  7. DON’T judge.  When you judge, you bully – it’s unkindness.
  8. LISTEN for the underlying emotion, pain and/or issue which you can probably relate to.
  9. DON’T make this about you.  It’s not.   Here’s why:  you don’t know.   What you did or what you would do just doesn’t matter.   You don’t have all the facts even if you’ve been told.
  10. TELL someone you care.  Ask them to tell you more.  Ask them how you can help.
  11. MOST OF ALL: Imagine what it would be like if…  How you would feel if….  How it must be to feel such pain…  What you want from someone if you felt….  What you would want or need from someone if….
  12. STAND UP AND REMIND others to also walk in another’s shoes.  Remind people inflicting pain on others does NOT lessen their own pain.  Not really.  Not for long.

Standing up to prevent bullying is a big deal.

Standing up to prevent bullying is a big deal.

There’s room for all of us in the shoe store of life.  IF we bother to understand someone else’s heel height.

What will you do to understand someone else’s pain and perspective?

Remember:  Only YOU can prevent Bullying

Remember: Only YOU can prevent Bullying

We’re all blind when…

29 Jun

We’re all blind when it comes to describing the elephant.

At least we’re a little bit blind…

There’s so much that can’t be seen – it has to be felt.

I’m referring to the Sufi tale of the 6 blind men describing (different parts of the) elephant.

http://equilibregaia.com/2013/05/28/sufi-story-blind-men-elephant/ .  Great site for the full tale and history

http://equilibregaia.com/2013/05/28/sufi-story-blind-men-elephant/ . Great site for the a complete explanation of Rumi’s tale and history

I realize it doesn’t make any difference what we are talking about:  There are those three truths to the story between two people.  There’s that pesky 900 pound gorilla.

And then there are all the different ways to describe the elephant:  pink, dead, and often in the middle of the living room (did you just bump into one now?).

In fact:  there are lots of different ways to describe the same idea, and even the same situation.

Different ‘ways’ are usually defined as ‘wrong’ ways.  Or is that ‘wrong’ ways are euphemism’s for different?  I’m sure it’s something like that.

I’m usually wrong and I hate to be wrong (at least all the time).  My guess is most of us don’t like to be wrong.

Wrong is another way of saying different perspective.  A perspective that is different from ‘others’ – but valid and true.  A perspective based on personal experiences, feelings, and values.  We’ve all got one.  It’s a good thing.  It makes us human.  As long as we don’t let that 900 pound gorilla sit on it and crush it out of us.

If crushing perspectives doesn’t work, can they be changed?  Sure…  But it seems more important to appreciate and respect someone’s different viewpoint and the experiences that created it.  Listen.  Reserve Judgement.  I guess it’s how we develop empathy.

Empathy is a bridge:  it turns each part of the elephant into a whole being.  Empathy allows us to love all 900 pounds of that gorilla.

Or for a different perspective

When it comes to describing the elephant we’re all  a little blind,

so:

Go ahead, keep your eyes closed and feel.

 I bet you’ll be amazed at what you will see.

2 Lessons I learned from the 10 Commandments

17 May

All those little things we think we know, yet don’t really know  or pay that much attention to.

Like the 10 Commandments.

thecripplegate.com
Not understanding goes deeper than language.  www.thecripplegate.com

I know what the Commandment tablets look like – I know, but more to recite them.  Writing this I’m reminded of how little I know about religion, or even its role in my life.  Or should I say, how its role is woven into my identity.

One the one hand, I know that the basis of all religions can teach us all about how to treat one another.  But I’m a little fuzzy on specifics.

So along comes Shavuot, my perfect learning opportunity.

I’ve always called this the ‘dairy’ holiday.  Though celebrated to commemorate the Jewish people receiving the 10 Commandments at Mt. Sinai during their 40 year ‘wander’ in the desert.

The ‘thing’ to do at the first night of this holiday is to stay up all night and study.  And because it’s the ‘dairy holiday, there’s ice cream and cheesecake.

formerfundy.blogspot.com
formerfundy.blogspot.com

I opted for a good night’s sleep.  With free time in my schedule Wednesday morning, I thought I’d actually go hear the commandments being read.  Something I’d never done before.   I was curious:  why????  Is it a big deal to hear them read? And why is it important to commemorate their ‘delivery’.

The actual reading is short:  a few minutes.  And since I heard it in Hebrew, I could have easily missed it.  One cool thing:  the kids came and surrounded the Rabbi, watching him read.  It’s important to pass on the learning to children.

My greater curiosity about the importance of the commandments was satisfied as the Rabbi shared his thoughts.  Starting first with the last commandment:

10.  Don’t be jealous.

Don’t be jealous of who someone is or what someone has.  Don’t covet their car, their clothes, their hair, or (for me) their silver jewelry.

Don’t be jealous of their phone, their tablet, their shoes. Their job, their life.

Simple:  right?

Ha!  How many times has that green-eyed monster reared its fiery head to singe your self-contentment?  Don’t we all want – or deserve – what everyone else has?

Someone shared that her daughter-in-law wants what her sister-in-law has.  Fill in the blank and that could be me at times.  I’m not alone am I?

Deeper, is the question do I really want or need those things.  Or, is it something much deeper that I want that I’m missing (I’ll pick door #2).

Then the Rabbi (an Orthodox Chabbad Rabbi, at that) quipped:

Well, at least you’ll obey the first commandment, not to kill another, right?

But he wasn’t done.  Actually I thought he was going to talk about Boston, or some other act of genocide/bullying.

But no…

“If you embarrass or insult someone and their face drains of color (blood), it is like you’ve killed them.  After all, killing someone is draining their body of blood.”

Imagine: Being condemned as a murderer by being a bully?

I know that feeling of my body tightening as in rigor mortis, feeling my face grow red when I’ve been attacked by a venomous word.

It brought to mind:  killing someone’s soul, someone’s self-esteem, hope: is as deadly as killing their body.  Either way, the heart dies.

Words have power.  And so do we.  It takes so little to be kind.

So here’s what I think we can all learn:

  1. Don’t be jealous, starting with don’t compare your life to others.  You have no idea what their journey is all about.  Be satisfied with what you have – there is a good chance it is enough (unless it has to do with bad health…).  When I covet something of someone else, I tell my myself I have to take the whole package of who they are to get that one thing.  Somehow, that makes me realize I’d rather just be me with none of that ‘great stuff’.
  2. Be kind and compassionate to others.  Don’t make little jokes at someone else’s expense even if they have a good sense of humor.  Especially if you know someone is feeling vulnerable (and that is most of us most of the time), don’t say things that will belittle them and make you feel better about yourself.

2 little steps that can make my world better – and hopefully yours.  

Best of joy to all of us.

Empathy: Be kind

7 Jan

I love this quote, so key, so true of empathy:

Be kind, for everyone you meet is fighting a great battle.
by Saint Philo of Alexandria

(and recently read in the book, ‘The other side of the world’, by Jay Neugeboren)

I always think of empathy as the key to connecting and understanding others – and even myself.  While this post is from one of my other blogs:  http://identity5772.wordpress.com, it certainly is essential to communication.  And what’s more fashionable than shoes, but good communication!

Here’s to blister-free walking this week!

Shes!  When did shoes become the go-to destination for journeys to nirvana?  When did well-appointed heels turn cads into princes and transform us plain girls to ‘sex-y in the city’?   Or has footwear always been as important to fashion as the saying: ‘Don’t judge me until you’ve walked a mile in my shoes’  has been to identity and peace?

Does our penchant for buying shoes, amassing Imelda Marcos or Carrie Bradshaw sized collections speak to our need to understand others?   Do new shoes provide  the potential and ability to walk that mile to understanding?

My footwear reflects my soul and mirrors my identity.  My journeys are on

Shoes fit for my very long journeys

foot and I’ve learned the hard way that Jimmy Choos and Manolo Blahnik’s derail my  joy into train wrecks.

Footwear can define identity, and, is just as complicated.   I recently told a dear friend, ‘we may wear the same size, but we like and wear very different shoes – literally and figuratively’.

It can be hard to understand someone you love.  Someone  whose footwear appears interchangeable with your own.  Different styles, different

One pre-Xmas night, a group of young men were camped in front of a shoe store on 34th Street in Manhattan. They were spending the night to be first in line to buy the ‘newest’ sneakers. What kind? What did they look like? No-one knew – just that they wanted them.

toes add difficulty relating to the owner of the heart-pumping-blood to those other  toes. As a species focusing on souls, rather than soles, and the miles journeyed, can surely help promote listening, peace and, understanding identity.

Empathy, the ability to put yourself into someone else’s shoes, to listen for  identity without bias or judgement.   Knowing and doing are two totally different things.

Empathy can improve communication and connection, if that  first giant step is taken:  to understand what someone else is feeling or what they need.

Swapping metaphoric  ‘shoes’:  Would any genocide occur if perpetrators imagined themselves, or their mothers, or wives, or children as victims?  Would they say ‘NO’ to crimes of hate?

This must be a key to peace as I wrote about in my recent post ‘Peace Requires Listening’.

Daniel Lubetzky,CEO of Kind Bars and PeaceWorks remarked (one of) the key to Palestinian-Israeli peace is for Israeli’s to listen to Palestinian needs.  I think a shoe swap and long survival hike might help.

I’ve often found empathy, along with blisters, after finding myself on a path with someone I’ve judged.  ‘Blisters’ force me to slow down, open my eyes, acknowledge the pain.

It’s painful to listen if we are not sure of our identity, or we are not on firm footing ourselves. In Vilna, Lithuania (‘Dinner in Vilna’), Lilly said she was unhappy before she focused her identity and connected with Judaism.

Some say shoe shopping, especially during a sale, is a religious experience. There are other ways to worship.

Empathy.  Walking that metaphoric mile.  Several years ago, I discovered the cure:

Imagine these pills shaped like SHOES: Empathy pills!

A pill.

A shoe-shaped empathy pill.  

Mid-judgement, mid-hate action, a quick pill pop would change everything with, ‘Here, walk a mile in my shoes.  Have an empathy pill.’

As soon as a pharmaceutical company gets back to me, I’ll take your orders.

In the meantime, how has a pair of shoes helped you understand others, or, shaped or defined your identity? 

What leg of your journey has developed your empathy?