Empathy comes and goes from my daily life, and it is often frustrated by stories that keep me in old holding patterns. Lately, I have been wondering though if there are steps towards empathy and these layers are outworked through my growth and maturity.
Each time I feel like I have put an old story to bed forever, something small comes along and trips me up. I realised that maybe I didn’t put the dialogue to rest, but I swept it under the carpet without unveiling the root issue.
The first step I have been learning to hurdle is making friends with vulnerability.
To be vulnerable is to open yourself up to the pain and discomfort of brokenness. Allowing ourselves to breathe in the pain of not having it all together can be the most liberating moment of our lives.
“Confidence flourishes by abandoning the idea that we need to look like we have it all together.”
Morgan Harper Nichols
Growth in the area of vulnerability happens best when I am surrounded by safe voices who allow me to speak openly but call me on to new days. Recently I was in a hard conversation with someone, in an old way of communicating I would get defensive and the conversation would quickly escalate. I have been really trying to find ways to sit with empathy with this dialogue in my life. To find healing however, I have been trying to sit first in the place of vulnerability rather than strength. Admitting to myself and the people involved that it is not easy and I need help to find a new way of communicating in this arena of my life.
The next step I have been noticing is sympathy.
The definition of sympathy is this;
“feelings of pity and sorrow for someone else’s misfortune or understanding between people; common feeling.”
I am learning that sympathy for those who are a step removed is much more comfortable when we don’t know the whole story with its complexity. I can feel pity and sorrow for someone else’s misfortune. I can listen to a story about challenge and triumph but what about those close who I have walked the problems with for ages. Sympathy turns to impatience, which for me is a quick road to words of discouragement.
Understanding comes when we sit in the space of listening to hear, rather than listening to respond. Whether it is a stranger on the internet or a friend sitting across the table, to find the patience to sit and listen, rather than make assumptions is a sign of maturity.
The next step I am learning is empathy.
Empathy is trying to understand what another person is feeling. It sees the world through another’s eyes.
The question someone asked me lately is why we should be empathetic? And honestly, it’s not something I have ever questioned myself because there is a foundational part of my value system that respects humanity. I believe in the power of every person’s story and voice. I think that when we try to control others by silencing them that the repercussions in our own stories and worlds can be devastating. I have found every time we grow and explore a desire to mature in our emotional intelligence; it empowers freedom in our everyday life.
For my family and me, the exploration of love and respect those in our everyday world including strangers is foundational to everything we believe. It is core to our passion and journey on this planet, and we want our legacy to be one of kindness, respect, patience, endurance and love.
That leads us to the next step in this discovery of empathy and its power.
To be compassionate is to not only sit in the discomfort of the pain but to move forward into action to alleviate the suffering.
The definition given by the dictionary here is this one;
“a feeling of deep sympathy and sorrow for another who is stricken by misfortune, accompanied by a strong desire to alleviate the suffering.”
The difference I believe between empathy and compassion is that you not only acknowledge the suffering as sympathy asks us to, but empathy also implores us to bring understanding and compassion moves us towards action.
The over overstimulation of people’s stories and the platform that social media gives to the news, stories and the misfortune of others. Unfortunately, both positive and negatives sit in this space of quick and easy access to publishing our own opinions and the spread of news quickly worldwide. The problem I see every day is that our senses are numbed to the reality of everyday people and their real-life stories because we have learnt to move on.
Compassion is a powerful tool that helps us stay connected to humanity and the power of everyday people and their stories.
The question I have for my amazing community here online is this…
Which word resonates with you in this season?
And how can we help one another sit in the discomfort of another’s story?
I believe that there is somebody, somewhere who needs your story and it is my life’s mission to help people discover and share their story so that together we can grow and leave a legacy of hope.
An audacious hope.