Friday, June 28, 2013

Empathy and anger

This week I heard a few stories that struck me. First, over the weekend I had a close friend tell me about an argument she had with her mom. She had yelled at her, and said some nasty things. Then she said to me, "I'm mad. Empathize with THAT."*

A few days later I heard another story on the news, about a gang war in New York City. A boy was murdered in a drive by shooting, and one gang took the credit on a video on youtube. In the video they rapped and sang and said, "Put yourself in my shoes, wouldn't you be angry too?"

What both of these stories have in common, to me, is that they are about overreacting to anger. When I get angry, I know I react in strong ways - sometimes I hurt people. Sometimes I act stupidly and hurt myself (stubbing my own toe in anger is something I've done more than once. Ow.) Although these stories are very different, I also believe that both people were asking the listener for something, too. "I'm mad" they say, "so you should be mad too." I think they are asking me to say what they did was all-right. To me, that's going beyond empathy.


When a person asks you to 'empathize' with them, they say that they want you to KNOW how they feel. "If you only knew how I was feeling!"

I believe that the point is to try to be in their shoes - but maybe I won't actually get there. The point is not to justify their behavior, but just to listen. Empathy helps me to remove judgments, and to learn about how others live and survive in this world. Ultimately it helps me to be there for another person. Hopefully I can help them feel like they are not alone.

If I had a chance to talk to this rapper boy in this gang, maybe I could ask him about how he felt that day. If they say they were angry, I can feel angry too and I can bring up those feelings when I talk to them. I can try to feel what they feel. I can try to not say the words, "what you did was justified."

Have you tried to listen to someone recently? Have you been there for someone in need? How did it go?


* For my friend's sake, I did try to listen to what she was saying. I commented about how it sounded like she was really mad (trying for empathy). My next sentence was something like, "yeah, well, and I see what she did and why it made you mad." In hindsight, I don't think that what I said was good - I was essentially justifying their bad behavior. Hopefully next time I can keep my mouth shut, or figure out how to say something better.. :)


Anonymous said...

Easy to say, don't give in to anger, don't over-react to anger; a lot harder to do.

mrs.m,. said...

empathy and sympathy are not the same things. anger is something else altogether. violence is never an appropriate response to anger unless the only thing we damage is dishes...our own, of course. controlling responses to anger involves not just strength but confidence as well, and a willingness to be seen as weak by those who would see it that way. it doesn't make it so. keep blogging, janet. honesty takes bravery. :)

Janet said...

Thanks Anonymous and Mrs. M! If I'm understanding you correctly, I agree that it's SO HARD to control responses to anger. I hope that the more we can be there to support each other, and to really listen when people are hurting, that we can help people to stop before they pass that anger on.