Monday, March 25, 2013

Gratitude for this Empathy Practice

I am so grateful for the opportunity to practice empathy in this way.

Sometimes it's a lot of work, sometimes I don't feel like it, but when I do it the rewards just keep coming.

Every time I push myself to listen with empathy to family and friends, my relationships become stronger. Every time that I push myself to say "how are you" to strangers, look them in the eye and MEAN IT, their minute interactions with me stay with me all day and for days afterwards.

There was a man with dark skin and a deep smile, who shared his joy at getting his palm leaves yesterday.
There was a young waitress, who shared her feelings about a expected late night at work, and the pluses (tips) and minuses (missing time with friends).
There was the hardworking sales representative I met on an airplane, who shared her memory of teasing about her uncommon name (Cassandra).

All these people stay with me, and my life is so much richer for them.

One of the reasons I write each week is to make connections to all of you. I do more work, but I feel like I know more about the lives of the people around me. And it truly brings me joy.

Have you connected with someone recently?


Monday, March 18, 2013

Self awareness - not feeling social

Not feeling social means to me that I'm tired of empathy, of sympathy, of listening. As rewarding as it is, sometimes I'm just DONE. I need to be in my own head.

This is a selfish place to be but it's also a comfortable, easy place. Like a favorite chair, well used in all the best spots.

This is, however, the worst place to be when I need to be social, for family or friends or work. I don't want to get out of that easy chair. And when I force myself out I can be mean to those around me. Resentful is probably a better word, since it reminds me of the behavior I see in my kids when I tell them to stop doing something. So consciously, I know that it's completely childish and yet I still do it.

Which is not the best thing!

So I guess acting this way is kind of like when I eat a lot of chocolate. It feels good to do but is not good for me. Mmmmm chocolate.

Thankfully for me (and for my family, friends and co-workers) these feelings often pass quickly. So my takeaway from this is to just ride it out. Once the feeling passes I'll be back to my old self again.

Another takeaway is if I see myself acting angry or resentful and there doesn't seem to be anything behind it, it means I probably just need some me-alone-time.

What do you do when you want to be alone? How do you feel?


Monday, March 11, 2013

Empathy and Conflict

I'm in the middle of reading a fascinating book, "Getting to Yes". It's all about learning the best ways to negotiate to agreement.

What strikes me reading this book is how much impact negotiation has on our everyday lives. For instance, if I learn how to negotiate better with my family I can have a happier life. If I learn how to negotiate better with my workmates I can have a more relaxed workplace existence.


As a kid, I loved to argue with my family. I loved to get into a heated debate, with each side fighting for their points. I firmly believed I was right all the time (of course, ha ha) and therefore it was in my best interests to present my points vehemently. I thought if I was just willful enough, they would see my point of view.

When I tried to do this with strangers or co-workers, I was met with anger. Presenting my position seemed to be the quickest way to tick people off. For example, if someone asked me the question, "Why are you a vegetarian" my response would be to present my position:

- what reasons I used when I chose a vegetarian lifestyle
- what things I saw (and continued to see) that encouraged me to choose this lifestyle
- the benefits of this choice that I saw (and continued to see) for myself

This kind of stuff would really get people angry. They would fight and argue with me, as if what I had said to them was an attack. They would yell, or otherwise express anger, and try to tell me what I was doing was wrong. I have always had a hard time understanding why people would react this way.

This book I'm reading about the ways to negotiate has made me see these interactions differently. If a person is starting a conversation by stating a position, according to the book, this person's comments can be interpreted as a personal attack or an attack on ideas. It is (as a result) natural for a person to respond to an 'attack' with a defensive posture, and to get angry. Not that everyone responds this way! But many people do.

What does all this have to do with empathy? Well one of the ways that the book talks about approaching a possible conflict is to have empathy for the other person. To start by trying to see things from their point of view, to put yourself in their shoes. Here's how I would redo the above 'vegetarian' conversation with empathy and with the ideas in this book:

Q: "Why are you a vegetarian?"

A: "That's an interesting question, I get that quite a lot. I'm wondering what is driving your question, can you tell me more about your understanding of vegetarianism?"

What are your hot-button topics, what ideas have you tried to present that have set people 'off''?

P.S. I've been asked recently 'how's Lucy' and I would just like to say that she's handled the winter just great. The ground is getting soft and her claws are getting muddy, but she seems to love being outside on these early spring days.


Monday, March 4, 2013

Rushing to judgements - update

In my previous post about rushing to judgments, I said that I was going to try to stop being judgmental. I've been trying, and failing, and trying again. I was trying this:

I'm doing it by focusing on a person's eyes and facial expressions before I do anything else. I have been trying to avoid looking at what people are wearing or how their bodies look, and to try to see them as people first.

So, that's not working. :(

I think it's not working because judging is a strong habit. For instance, I was at a playground this weekend and there were other parents around. I caught myself several times making up stories about them; this one was a cab driver, that one was an ex-punk rocker, this one was taking zumba classes. Ugh. Each time I realized what I was doing I stopped myself. But it was very discouraging.

The 'eye contact' thing isn't working for, I think, several reasons. First I think people are uncomfortable making eye contact in non-social situations like elevators or train stations. Also, some people see me making eye contact and they expect a conversation. I seem to be scaring people.

For now, I'm  trying to simply be aware of when I'm doing it. Hopefully this will give me the practice I need to stop judging, and open up to the possibility of empathy.


A recent trip to New York City reminded me something about my habits. See, growing up there I learned the habit of looking down. Looking up, or looking around, was something I believed that only tourists did. Well now here I am, not as a tourist, but not looking down. I broke the habit, and now I look all around.

On the subway, I wasn't looking where I was going (yes, I wasn't looking down) and I bumped someone, hard. I turned and apologized, and she gave me a look. The look was, "uh, why are you apologizing?" which just shows how long I've been NOT a city-dweller. Yet another New York City habit broken. I don't assume that it's all-right to bump into people.

If I can break habits here, I can break them anywhere. :)

Have you ever broken a habit? Tell us about it.

Saturday, March 2, 2013

update schedule

I'm going to have to change my update schedule to once per week, on Mondays. See you Monday with a new post!