The Power of Practicing Empathy

Practice empathy by quinn.anya, on Flickr

We pass them in the grocery store.  We breeze by them in the office.  We ride with them on elevators.  Yet, we have no idea what the person standing next to us is really going through, what trauma they may have just experienced, what bad news they may have just heard.

Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 2.0 Generic License  by  quinn.anya 

 

A spouse diagnosed with a terminal illness.  Visiting a parent in hospice unknowingly for the last time.  Wondering how Dad, who just had a stroke, will be taken care of.

These are a few of only millions of real situations people encounter and have to deal with each day.

What’s more, WE may BE the person who’s just received the unfavorable news or the bad diagnosis.

We live in a society where we’re so rushed and busy; it’s normal for us to focus on what we need to do in the moment (this is me).  But what could potentially happen if we just slowed down a moment and stopped to think of those around us, to smile at someone, to just say, “Good morning,” or “Good afternoon” to the person standing in line before us?

I recently watched a video entitled, “Empathy:  The Human Connection to Patient Care,” a video produced by the Cleveland Clinic (I originally saw it on the blog “On Being” by Krista Tippett).

The video started out with a quote by Henry David Thoreau,

“Could a greater miracle take place than for us to look through each other’s eyes for an instant?”

Just for an instant, just for a moment.

I think sometimes that may be easier said than done.  I know it is for me.

So how do we go about being people who can see through another’s eyes?  How can we learn to show more empathy in our fast-paced world?

According to Roman Krznaric, author of the article, “Six Habits of Highly Empathic People,” empathy is,

“…a habit we can cultivate to improve the quality of our own lives.”

Furthermore,

“…[W]e can make empathy an attitude and a part of our daily lives, and thus improve the lives of everyone around us.”

So what are the habits that lead to being able to practice empathy?

  • Habit 1:  Cultivate curiosity about strangers (my husband does this so well) – this entails not just talking to the person next to you about the weather, but about “trying to understand the world inside the person.”
  • Habit 2:  Challenge prejudices and discover commonalities – I know that I’ve made assumptions about people based on the way they look, and upon having a conversation with them, learned they were completely different than what I thought.
  • Habit 3:  Try another person’s life – this is a physically experiential habit.  In other words, do something that represents how another person views life.  For example, if you’re a Christian, attend a Sikh service.  If you don’t like the outdoors, spend some time camping for a night.
  • Habit 4:  Listen hard and open up – really listen and make yourself vulnerable by exposing ourselves and our own emotions (I personally think you have to survey the situation to make sure opening yourself up is really “safe”).
  • Habit 5:  Inspire mass action and social change – practicing empathy is not just for individuals.  People can organize collectively to practice empathy to inspire social change.  It seems the Occupy movement may have fit that bill, at least initially.  But according to the article, collective change will most likely come about by teaching this new generation of children how to be empathic.  As well, social networking is a vehicle that can be a catalyst for change.
  • Habit 6:  Develop an ambitious imagination – this seems similar to Habit 3.  According to the article, “We also need to empathize with people whose beliefs we don’t share or who may be “enemies” in some way. If you are a campaigner on global warming, for instance, it may be worth trying to step into the shoes of oil company executives…”

So here are six habits that we can develop to help us grow in empathy.

HOW DO YOU PRACTICE EMPATHY?  WHAT ARE SOME OTHER WAYS WE CAN PUT OURSELVES IN ANOTHER’S SHOES TO POSITIVELY IMPACT THAT PERSON’S LIFE, AS WELL AS OUR OWN?

How to Hold On to Hope

Tearing Out HairHaven’t we all felt this way at some points in our lives?

“I’m so fed up!  I don’t know what to do!  I’m so overwhelmed!  I can’t take this anymore!”

Your on-the-rocks marriage.  Your disrespectful children.  Your overbearing boss.  Your seemingly ever-insufficient finances.  Your worsening health.  Pressures from caring for your elderly parents.  Many other stressors and burdens can be added to this list (not that you want to, but the reality is, they’re lurking or right smack in your face).

You’re desperate, weary, pressed down, disappointed, and depressed.  This is not an all-inclusive list – you may have felt something I didn’t mention here, but these are some emotions I’ve felt as I’ve dealt with issues related to my marriage, my finances, my health, and attempting to care for my dad who had a stroke and had to move 750 miles into our home (thank you, my wonderful husband).

These emotions can lead to anger, bitterness, resentment, and rage, which can affect your relationships, your job, and your peace of mind in destructive ways.  Part of the problem is this – often you don’t know your relationships, job, and peace of mind are being crushed under the weight of these emotions until it’s sometimes too late.

Yet, you want better.  For your marriage.  For your family.  For yourself.  You know you have to change.  You want to get control of the anger, the rage, the bitterness.  In fact, you can’t stand how your emotions seem to take control when adverse situations rear their ugly heads.  When your husband gets on your nerves.  When your children have gone bananas.  When your job is beating you down.  When you just can’t get control of your circumstances (and as a control freak myself, not being in control is more than unsettling).

There was a woman who, according to the writer of the Gospel of Mark, faced similar circumstances.

Now there was a woman who had been suffering from hemorrhages for twelve years (Mark 5:25).

She was in a situation over which she had no control.  Her body failed her, and she did everything she could to find a cure.  She went to the neighborhood clinic.  She went to the doctor in-town.  She went to the best specialists money could buy.  And yet, with every visit, each doctor gave her a prescription for this, a prescription for that.  An herbal remedy here, a natural remedy there.

Nothing worked.

She had endured much under many physicians, and had spent all that she had; and she was no better, but rather grew worse (Mark 5:26).

It’s sort of like going to church desperately searching for your healing.  You do what the pastor tells you to do.  You clap and shout for God.  You go to the altar to pray.  You even give extra in the offering plate.  Now, don’t get me wrong.  There is absolutely nothing wrong with church – in fact, I love praising and worshiping God!  But in my own experience, I allowed the worship to mask my pain.  I used church to hide my sicknesses – the anger, the disappointment, the bitterness.  I pretended like I received my healing in the midst of my praise.  After all, isn’t that what’s supposed to happen?  “When the praises go up, the blessings come down,” is the familiar expression.  Yet, for me, I used the acts of praise and worship as ways to ignore my own affliction.    And of course, teaching weekly Bible studies means that you’re emotionally and spiritually healthy, right?

Perhaps not.  At least not in my case.

What have you tried to mask your pain – conferences, retreats, counseling, medication?  (Or maybe I’m just talking to myself.)

Let’s return to the scene of the woman with the endless hemorrhage.  She searched for a solution to her suffering for years.  She had nothing left.  She was financially and emotionally bankrupt.

She had endured much…and had spent all that she had (Mark 5:26).

Yet, she didn’t give up.  As she walked through town, she heard about a man who was going around her town healing people.  And based on what she heard, she knew without a shadow of a doubt that if she could just get to Him, she would be healed of her affliction.

She had heard about Jesus, and came up behind him in the crowd and touched his cloak, for she said, “If I but touch his clothes, I will be made well” (Mark 5:27-28).

Although she had never met the man, she expected Jesus would restore her.  She had hope in a man she had never seen.  But she knew He had the power to change her.  She took her hope and placed it all on Him – literally.  And because she did, she was healed of a disease that nobody else could cure.

Immediately her hemorrhage stopped; and she felt in her body that she was healed of her disease (Mark 5:29).

That’s good news – not just for her, but for us as well.  For as she held on to just a bit of hope – hope that she could one day live the life she once lived without shame (in ancient times, people would shun such people who were ill from sickness and disease from society).  Hope that she could one day be normal.  Hope that she could one day regain that which she had lost – her dignity, her purpose.  She had hope.

Even when I wasn’t who I needed and desired to be in my marriage, I absolutely knew that if I continued to pray and seek God for restoration, no matter how long it took, God would heal the afflictions from the baggage I brought into the relationship, and things would change for me, thereby changing my marriage.  It took awhile.  I had a lot of inner work to do.  It was painful.  But I held on to hope.  And I’m now reaping the benefits of that hope.  I’ll always be doing that inner work.  But I expected God to do something for me.  And that’s just one example.  There are many more I could talk about.  But I’ll spare you.

What about you?  Hopefully your marriage has brought some blessings.  Think about those blessings, but hold on to the possibility of more.  You know your children are inherently good and wonderful human beings.  Think about the wonderful moments you had with them, and hold on to the possibility that you will see goodness again.  Hold on to the good times you had with them, but hold on to the possibility of more.

Hold on to hope.  But how?

First, hold on to the word that God cares for you, is concerned about you, and wants the best for you.

For surely I know the plans I have for you, says the Lord, plans for your welfare and not for harm, to give you a future with hope (Jeremiah 29:11).

Second, you must give up your pride.  Acknowledge your role in your own affliction.  In marriage, it takes two to make it what it is – good or bad.  In your relationship with your children, maybe your need to control has been overbearing to the point of contention.  Have you had a good attitude related to your job?  Have you been kind to yourself, forgiving yourself of past failures that you may be beating yourself over (I know a lot about this)?

Think of your own situation.  Own it, acknowledge it.

But after you’ve done so, the third thing to do is to give it to God.  The scripture says,

Do not worry about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus (Philippians 4:6-7).

Fourth, don’t always look for immediate healing.  God wants to grow us up.  It didn’t take an hour or two for you to become an adult.  Healing is a process.  Holding on to hope is a process.  But no matter how long it takes, no matter how uncomfortable it feels, go in peace knowing that God began a good work in you and will complete it (Philippians 1:6).

Fifth, CHANGE YOUR THOUGHTS!  As Marianne Williamson stated, “Thoughts are not neutral.”  If you think negatively about your situation, that negative energy will make its way out into your relationships, your job, your finances, and every other area of your life, and you won’t receive your blessing.  Your hope will be in vain.  Think positively about your spouse, your children, your job, your finances, yourself.    Because as a person thinks in her heart, so is she (Proverbs 23:7).

As you hold on to hope, realize that healing and deliverance come in ways you may not expect.  Lay your own expectations on the altar, and allow God to restore you in ways He knows is best.  It’s uncomfortable – believe me, I’ve been, and continue to go, through the process.  But as you go through, please do one last thing:

CELEBRATE THE VICTORIES, NO MATTER HOW SMALL.

In situations in which you may have become angry with your spouse but you held your tongue, celebrate (in your own mind and by yourself).  In times where you may have taken a drink but you prayed and held out, celebrate.  At the end of the month when you had a few more dollars than you normally would have, celebrate (but don’t go out and buy anything).  When you look in the mirror, see a person who is completely loved by God and celebrate.  Whatever your affliction, because you are holding on to hope, you’re making progress.  And because you’re making progress, you are succeeding.  Just hold on.

And when you fall, just get back up and do it again.  Don’t give up.  Hold on – no matter what it takes – to HOPE.

What have you done to hold on when things aren’t the way you want them to be in your life?  I’d love to hear your feedback!

© Copyright 2011 by Kay F. Solomon.  All rights reserved.

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Commencement – Beginning Anew

‘Tis the season of commencement. A time when graduates close one chapter of their lives to begin the next.

I started this blog in 2006. I blogged consistently for awhile, then hit a few snags. As is often the case, life got in the way. Not in a bad way, though. Demands changed. Priorities shifted. Then writing ceased. For years.

There were a few disingenuous false attempts to return. Yet, it wasn’t the time. I felt like I was forcing myself to live in a space where I didn’t belong. So while I missed writing, I had to stay on the sidelines.

Yet it is now Commencement time not only for high school and college graduates, but for me as well. I am returning to my blog, writing here at Women Walking In Wisdom’s Footsteps™. And I’m excited about the direction I sense God is taking me.

The tagline to this blog is “For women who are humble enough to seek wisdom, yet sensible enough to impart it.” So first, while anyone can read my blog, I direct my writing toward women, because I am one, and I know much more about women than I do men.

Second, I anticipate women other than me will contribute to this blog. In no way do I profess to be an expert on anything. However, I do believe that I can take the steps of women whose feet have been where I’ve been and have achieved some success in areas in which I’ve struggled.

I’ve often felt like I’m the only one who struggles in so many areas of life. Before I got married, I failed in my relationships. And those failures followed me. I should say, I packed those failures in a bag and carried them around with me every day. Just like Erykah Badu’s song entitled “Bag Lady.” She sings:

Bag lady you gone hurt your back
Dragging all them bags like that
I guess nobody ever told you
All you must hold on to
Is you, is you, is you

One day all them bags gone get in your way
One day all them bags gone get in your way
I said one day all them bags gone get in your way
One Day all them bags gone get in your way

I know a lot about those bags.  But while I once believed I was the only one who experienced the pain of carrying that baggage, I now know, as I’ve worked through ridding myself of some of those bags, that I’m not the only one.  I’ve learned some things as I’ve thrown away baggage, and I’d like to talk about some of that on this blog in an effort to help others.

As I share my experiences in the areas of relationship/marriage, parenting, health and body image, emotional intelligence, and spirituality, I hope my readers will also share not only their own struggles, but advice as well.

In full disclosure, I am a Christian. The foundation of my writings is God and Jesus Christ. However, I do believe that no matter your faith tradition, you can glean something from the writing here. I don’t say that to be arrogant at all. I just think that the wisdom imparted here through the women who read and comment can help others if we can all keep an open mind.

I’m excited to be back. I’ll post once weekly on Tuesdays. If I feel the urge to write a second post, I’ll do so. But for now, look for the first post this Tuesday.

In the meantime, click here to learn a little more about me. I look forward to getting to know more about you.

(If you like what you’ve read, please click here or enter your email address in the SUBSCRIBE BY EMAIL box in the sidebar to receive my blog posts by email.)

A Pep Talk from Kid President

My students just knew I’d love this video and insisted on showing it to me.

They were right… I LOVED it!

I’ve never seen this kid, but I’ll be watching more of his “pep talks.” In addition to him being very cute, he seems to know the right questions to ask.  For example, this very important question addressed to us all:

“What will you create to make the world awesome?”

Very encouraging.  From the mouths of babes.

I wish someone taught me these principles when I was his age.  I wouldn’t have so much to make up for now.  Better late than never.

Share this to encourage someone who needs to know they’re special and needed in this world.

Wisdom from a Girls’ Bathroom Stall

When you think about the words that you’ve seen in some girls’ bathroom stalls, what do you normally think about?  Words that typically come to my mind are vulgarity, nastiness, foolishness, offensive… lots of these types of adjectives come to mind.  Of course, then there are all the phone numbers revealing personal data about people who had no intention of sharing that information.

Who would think that one could receive wisdom from a girls’ bathroom stall?  And yet, that’s exactly what was found in a university restroom, in response to the disclosure of some tragic and terrible life experiences, written in a single stall.

That someone took the time out to thoughtfully respond is remarkable.  Her words are inspiring – for anyone.

Take a look at the story, with an image of the actual note, here.