Tag Archives: empathy

10 Posts for 10 Years: #2

January 23, 2014

If the eyes are windows to the soul, then my father’s eyes told epic tales.

I “focus” on the eyes now because of the pivotal importance eyes play in empathy, in hope, in knowing a person and in loving unconditionally. The eyes show purity of emotion, they reveal attention, they help us to connect and they transform experiences into memories.

Dad's EyesMy father’s eyes . . . although damaged by pressure and the bombardment of strenuous work, still gleamed when he spoke. No, they danced.

By some uncanny knowledge (or, perhaps, a kindred innocence), his eyes caught us kids in our hijinks. It’s all about the way he knew to raise a brow, sneak in a wink, pinch them shut during allergy season or roll them at one of my notoriously bad jokes.

No eyes will ever see me for exactly who/what I am or love his family just the same. His eyes were accepting, stern, playful, tired and ever watchful. They were hazel, like mine, but with different stars circling the center . . . more feisty brown flecks. The crinkly creases at the edge deepened but never aged him.

I miss how his eyes looked to me with the responsibility of being his eldest child, to me as his goofy sarcastic buddy and to me as his spiritual student.

“I pray that the eyes of your heart may be enlightened in order that you may know the hope to which he has called you, the riches of his glorious inheritance in his holy people,” Ephesians 1:18

The Wheels on the Bus

May 24, 2013

Go round and round. Round and round, round and round.
The wheels on the bus go round and round. All through the town.

Don’t you love the songs of childhood, when honesty, innocence and discovery were the classes of life, and the smallest encounters meant the grandest of stories?

Presently, as I type this, I am spinning along the eastern coast of New Zealand on a bus driven by a wonderful driver named Steve. Steve is talented. How do I know? I’m on the side closest to the ocean and he hasn’t nudged a guardrail yet. (wink) Plus, he’s teaching us about the local language and scenic spots along the way. So many stories woven into the land.

That takes me to mine. You see, the bus has taught me a few things as I travel all over this epic countryside. Like those spinning wheels carrying passengers to new ports of call, our lives and our exchanges with one another spin into new conversations and new connections. When “trapped” on a bus together over a long distance, you see the sleep patterns, restlessness, scenic interests and snacking habits of others. It’s a fun exploration, if you welcome it.

Spinning deeper, you also find out a lot about your comfort zone, your humming voice of judgment and your ability to (pardon me) “roll with it.” Now, this can either take you into a tail spin of increasing frustration, which I witnessed. Or, it can spin you toward personal growth. Let me share an example:

The only seat on a city bus was next to a man who looked quite haggard, with unwashed hair, the permeating smell of old cigarettes and an overstuffed grocery bag. If I chose to remain standing that would have been, in my mind at least, shunning this man unnecessarily. I’m glad I sat down. Turns out that he was very nice, and I learned about cycling and his family. And that was just our brief exchange before he hopped off the bus. I had to ask myself, “What in me made me hesitate?” Petty self-righteousness, fear of cooties or, perhaps, a lack of willingness to shut my eyes and open my heart. Good lesson.

From that moment on, I made it a point to do an empathy scan on the people around me. When a woman recoiled at a man who smelled like wet cats on a very rainy day, I wondered if he was caring for orphan kittens, visiting his mom’s place to help out or heading into the city for promise of a new job. (Sidebar: I ran into him later. Turns out he was going from place to place and hard-pressed to buy a cup of coffee.)

It’s not always the people who seem to be having a rough financial go of it. I saw a well-put-together young woman who held up the bus (as I myself had done on several occasions figuring out where I needed to go) and got a few glares from passengers. I imagined she may be excited about her first job out of college, feeling a bit frazzled after a troubling conversation with her partner or simply overslept after cleaning the house to prepare for a surprise visit from brother on leave from the military. (Sidebar: Turns out she left her wallet at home, her bus pass expired and she just needed a few of these coins they call dollars.)

Empathy is the great equalizer. It calms our judgmental side, exercises our compassion and lets us use this funny thing called an imagination. It also pushes us to grow.

Realigning Priorities

May 10, 2013

I have a challenge for you: Limit your total personal Internet use (cell, computer and tablet) to one hour tomorrow. Think it’s easy? I’ve got one more caveat for you: You only get that hour in one location (home, cafe, whatever). That’s every text, every call and every poke on Facebook. Let me know the result by commenting here. And . . . go.

Why? Well, I am seeing an amazing thing in New Zealand . . . people talking, people playing with their kids, people looking up at the sky, people eating without a device sitting on the table, people not plugged in at every moment. I’ll prove it. Here is a photo of the mirrored cafe ceiling:

Like Where's Waldo? Bonus points if you can find me.

Like Where’s Waldo? Bonus points if you can find me.

In addition, I counted a few minutes worth of drivers and not one was texting while barely looking up. Yes, I have observed people walking around talking on their phones but it’s the minority. I even made eye contact (remember that) with over a dozen people in the last five minutes. I’m baffled. It’s like life exists for these Kiwis. Huh.

I’ll call myself out first. I’m a text, talk, walk and “multitask” offender. My dear brother can testify. In fact, momentary panic set in last night when I saw, “59 minutes and 50 seconds of your daily wifi allowance remains” as I logged in at my accommodation. “What?! Daily?” I thought. No ding, brrrring, vvvvrrrrr, notification-a-palooza? I felt alone, I felt jolted and I even felt a hint of judgment.

Why? I have become oddly accustomed to seeing my world through a four-inch screen. I was constantly looking down not ahead. I was looking to a device to gauge things not my inner processor (a.k.a. intuition). And here’s the thing, I’m still adjusting. I posted, pinged and messaged like a mad woman for the hour I was allotted.

Now, I’m typing and watching the rain fall. Instead of headphones, I hear birds and laughter. Gotta say, as a writer, umbrellas are fun little microcosms to watch and, attention Phoenix friends, people don’t actually melt in the rain. Funnier still, the cafe is filled with books, conversation and sipping. I’m the only soul on a laptop. Again, huh.

I suspect our “civilized” priorities are askew. Remember the principle of want vs. need? It’s a childhood tool we learn to help us retain awareness. In order to help the world hope, it seems I need to refresh us all, myself included, on how and where to focus. You have to have a shred of attention in order to exercise empathy, be present with those who are hurting and seek your bliss. I can tell you that technology is amazing, useful and a blessing. I can also tell you that digitized reality can distract us from the heart of humanity.

Here are a few photos of life unplugged:

Park on Devonport coastline

Park on Devonport coastline

My furry companion at the cafe

My furry companion at the cafe

Reflecting on the beauty of life

Reflecting on the beauty of life

I know dialing down instead of up is tough. I’m here for you. Perhaps wifi can begin to stand for “we invest fully in” living with presence. Here’s hoping.

Have You H.O.P.E.D. Today?

February 10, 2013

We all have barriers to hope. We may linger with them temporarily or cling to them because it’s all we know. There is no need to beat yourself up over them. Merely acknowledge that they exist, journal about what triggers them and recognize when you are dwelling in the company of doubt or worry. You have the power to swap those thoughts for what you truly wish to pull into your life—happiness, fulfillment, success and, of course, hope.

Time and life have shown me, over and over again, that helping others can help crumble our barriers, amp up our self-confidence and dissolve the perceived bricks that make up our emotional walls. Helping others brings us full circle to help ourselves.

Knowing that the troubled mind, the grief-stricken spirit and the stressed consciousness may not process concepts as quickly, I chose to create a mnemonic device to help you remember this principle: H.O.P.E.D.

Humbly
Offer
Personal
Empathy
Daily

Why Humbly, you ask? First, humility is not the same as doormat. Humility is honor in a simple form. Being humble transcends the barriers of others to encourage them to share, to be vulnerable and to seek your gifts. Humbly means you don’t have to have all the answers, rush to fix or do more than be your glorious self. Simply stated, “Put your pride aside.”

To Offer is to present an opportunity with the mindset that you are ready to engage that person or provide assistance. It takes a multitude of forms, from offering to hold space for a lost stranger to offering to walk a cart back for a fellow store patron. The key with the verb offer is that two paths are built in—accept or decline. By offering, it does not guarantee the recipient will take you up on the idea, time or help. In fact, be prepared to return to step one and “humbly” walk away. It’s ok. Offers are not obligations, nor are they requirements of others. It is not an assessment of your value or the merit of the offer; it’s timing.

Moving to Personal, this is a crucial piece. To feel the full glow of giving, helping or transforming, you must make a personal effort. It has to have quality, depth and authenticity behind it. To humbly offer but not really mean it, or to be distracted and not actively listen, is merely going through the motions. Chiseling away at your barriers and gaining spiritual maturity call for personal investment beyond the pleasantries of social convention and the facades of public expectation. Just one word of clarification, personal does not mean that you have to spill your life story or go beyond your intuitive comfort zone. Just be real.

Ah, next is Empathy. This characteristic is near and dear to me. It is both innate and learned. Yes, it can be learned. Empathy is not sympathy or pity. It is choosing to understand the motivations, feelings, experiences and desires of another without taking those emotions into your being. And unlike sympathy, empathy does not have to be sparked by misfortune or sorrow. Empathy is so much more powerful. It is also the most challenging aspect of the H.O.P.E.D. acronym. In fact, the first three concepts (Humbly, Offer, Personal) build you up to this step. To grow in empathy, you must exercise it. You must humble yourself to be receptive to others, offering a willing ear and open heart, personally expanding your way of seeing the world to embrace the individual before you without judgment. In turn, it helps us evolve in emotional wisdom.

Finally, we find Daily. As someone who is not a fan of repetition, boredom, stagnation or routine, I can tell you that I chose daily very thoughtfully. So, let me shoot straight: the H.O.P.E.D. principle requires activity to deliver its full benefit. It, like you, needs a loving investment daily. And, like all good life habits, it will feel more natural with time.

In essence, the goal is to Help One Person Every Day without seeking notoriety, reward or even acknowledgment. There is something deep and lasting in doing good. The enhanced sense of worth, joy and connection that results may be all you H.O.P.E.D. for and more.