Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Errors in conversation - knowing failure when I see it

I'm not the greatest at live conversation. When people complain, when I hear people tell me all about the horrible things in their lives, I become a problem solver. Instead of building up empathy and connecting with their feelings I try to fix their issues. I do this over and over again, but recently I had an experience that was a little different.


A few weeks ago, I was visiting my friend Gina while she had some other people over. Another friend, Sara, was in the kitchen telling a group of us all about her husband who was sick. As she spoke, her head dropped lower and lower. She seemed to be using that tone of voice I've heard when people are trying not to cry; a little choked up, overly high-pitched and false-happy sounding. She was sad, but she did seem to be getting some relief by opening up to both of us about the many fun times her and her husband had together, before the illness. She moved on, describing the very limited life they lived now; they were only travelling short distances, they hadn't seen certain close friends in many years, and they had to carry their medical equipment everywhere they went.

As Sara went on, Gina commented, "Wow, so there's nothing that can be done? Have they tried all the medicines? What about surgery, have they tried that? Which hospital did she go to?" Etc. I was noticing that Gina was doing exactly what I've done so many times - she was trying to fix her problem.

As Gina continued her medical analysis, I realized I was seeing the entire discussion as a spectator, it was like watching a play open up before me. Sara's face had gone blank, and she was numbly answering Gina's questions one after the other. It was clear to me from Sara's reaction to Gina that the 'let's fix you' language was so very wrong; because I could see Sara dropping out of the conversation. She had stopped making eye contact with any of us, and she acted like she wanted to leave the room as soon as she could.

Since I was seeing it a bit detached, I was able to react differently than I've done before. I said, "I can't imagine what that's like for you, how have you been holding up?" I gave her one of my favorite facial expressions - the Curious/Sad face. I use it on my kids sometimes when they are crying but I have no idea why.

It seemed to work - she snapped out of the blank stare, and reacted calmly. She felt her feelings and then moved on, and we were able to move on.

It was clear to me that Sara wasn't asking us to, "Please fix my husband's problem." She was expressing her feelings, saying, "I'm sad, and I want you to tell me that you hear my sadness."

What do you do if someone is complaining to you? How would you have reacted to Sara, or to Gina?


Friday, August 8, 2014

Crazy talk

What does it mean, the word 'crazy'?

People I've met seem to like the word, and use it often. Here are some examples:

A comment on a blog, "I stay away from the crazy ones."
A post on facebook, "I'm so glad I stay away from the crazy people."

When I hear this, I think it means, "I don't like and/or understand why you are doing the things that you do, so I'm calling you crazy to differentiate you from me."

I think I use the word to mean anyone I don't understand. To be 'crazy', then, would also mean it's someone I cannot have empathy for. That would mean, also, that it's really about me, and not about the other person. I lack the ability, skill or patience to empathize with their actions  - therefore they are crazy.

If I look at this guy, for instance. I find it hard to understand why someone would do this, so I call them 'crazy'.

Building up empathy means, to me, being able to look out at the world and not see a world full of crazy people. I continue to try to see it as a world full of people; people just trying to be happy and trying to live their lives.