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Archive for the tag “empathy”

Don’t look back in anger

Welp, Mari and I took a bit of a blogcation.  It was quite lovely and I, for one, feel refreshed and ready to word-vomit all over this place.  So let’s get to it, shall we?

Over the past 5 years or so I’ve made a Christmas wish for humanity.  In 2014 I wished that everyone could experience empathy for people that aren’t in their own tribe.  In hindsight, that was waaaaaaaaaaaay to much to ask for.  If 2014 taught me anything it taught me people use empathy as a tool in conversations but they’re not getting what it means.  I think there are good reasons for this.  Empathy is difficult.  Empathy also leads to undesired self-reflection.  It is much easier to take the easy road of applying your beliefs to everyone and think you’re awesome and no one else “gets it”.

So a definition seems appropriate here:

The ability to sense other people’s emotions, coupled with the ability to imagine what someone else might be thinking or feeling.

Many people conflate empathy with sympathy. I choose to view it this way to avoid confusion: Sympathy is “feeling with” a person, such as compassion or commiseration; Empathy is “feeling into” someone else. It is the ability to project one’s own personality into another person to better understand that person.

Over the course of 2014, as empathy became a buzzword, I observed many people attempt to demonstrate that they are empathetic. Some people succeeded and it made my heart happy. Some people failed (I’m definitely in this group–it’s a work in progress). Some of these fails were spectacular or made me chuckle. I had someone tell me, “I’m trying to be empathetic but everything you think and say are just wrong.”. I appreciate the initial effort but this person isn’t taking things far enough, in my opinion.

I had another person, after saying he treats all races the same state, “no one cares about race but race-hustlers”. He refused to listen to racial groups alleging institutional racism because he believed “it doesn’t exist”.  When I disagreed and poked some fun (I had predicted earlier this would happen) he went completely off the rails. He listed numerous things that he does for charity, launched into a diatribe about what he perceived were my personal failings (which he had to imagine/make up), then passive-aggressively tell me that empathy is telling me that he’s sorry I’m so angry (which he again made up). That was a complete empathy failure during a purported demonstration of empathy. Good times.

I’m tempted to be disheartened about these developments.  However this year I’m choosing to be hopeful about them. I’ve known the above referenced people for a long time and even those efforts are significant for them. On a broader level empathy is injected into political campaigns, lawmaking and normal conversation at a higher rate. Empathy is aspirational. I think these are good things and I’m going to work harder to get it right. I’m hopeful because the elevation of empathy as a desirable trait will do us all well.

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Isn’t it weird that a privilege could feel like a chore?

Personal failure: I refused to acknowledge or consider my own privilege for a loooooooong time.

I suppose a definition will be helpful here. I’ll go with this one:

the set of societal privileges that white/male people benefit from beyond those commonly experienced by people of color/women in the same social, political, or economic spaces (nation, community, workplace, income, etc.). The term denotes both obvious and less obvious unspoken advantages that white/male individuals may not recognize they have, which distinguishes it from overt bias or prejudice. These include cultural affirmations of one’s own worth; presumed greater social status; and freedom to move, buy, work, play, and speak freely. The concept of privilege also implies the right to assume the universality of one’s own experiences, marking others as different or exceptional while perceiving oneself as normal.

What led me to examine these privileges? Being taken behind the proverbial woodshed in online and meatspace conversations. I’d like to thank not only the people that patiently pointed out my ignorance and took the time to educate me, but also the people that rightfully mocked me. The mockery stung but I (eventually) saw that even though I intended to be a good person I was choosing to ignore something important.

Once I admitted that these privileges existed I needed to take the next step and ask myself why I chose to ignore them. This was a difficult step. I relied on my perception that “things are much better than they used to be” to justify my choice to ignore the systemic structural and cultural issues that exist today. I pretended that today represented a true meritocracy and that women, people of color, etc. had zero impediments to success other than their own desires and efforts.

Many people believe they are “colorblind” and I don’t doubt their belief. But even if it’s true, it’s only a partial victory. Stephen Colbert has a great line about this:

Now, I don’t see color. People tell me I’m white and I believe them because police officers call me “sir”.

I love this line, but I didn’t realize the full implication of it until I saw it referenced in a twitter discussion about libertarians and race. Colbert slyly exposes his privilege while disclaiming it, which is genius. His purported colorblindness is a defense of his privilege.

Another reason that I refused to admit my privilege is that I liked the results. This, sadly is a remnant of my lamentable detour into libertarian beliefs. I internalized the “culture of dependence” argument. I thought that other racial groups and women would be OK with just pretending that everything was suddenly equal. Mind you, I didn’t bother to ask any of these groups.

So what does it mean for me now that I’m able to admit my privilege? It does not mean that the existence of the privilege is the only determining factor when faced with an issue. It does mean that I am better able to properly empathize with different groups’ positions. People sometimes let me know that acknowledging privilege is naive. Or it is “playing into their hands” like this is some sort of zero-sum game. Or it is white guilt. I don’t agree. Instead I know that I would feel guilty perpetuating the illusion of things being OK today. There is still much to be done.

Confessions of a somewhat good person

angel

(image 4.bp.blogspot.com/)

When I think about the differences between me at 35 versus me at 20, I see that the basic foundation is similar. I am definitely not an angel but like to think of myself as a pretty good gal.  People like me, mostly.  Lately I have been thinking about the antics younger me pulled and came to a scary conclusion: Younger me and older me aren’t so different and would probably be good friends.  For some reason I thought having kids and becoming an adult would miraculously make me a different, perhaps better person.  Oops. Do any of these sound familiar to you??

Adult me versus Kid me

As a grown up I knowingly make a difficult dinner and often do a bit of baking the day before our housekeepers come.  Dinner and baked goods taste better when I don’t have to mop up the flour my daughter spills and clean the oil off the stove top. Younger me rarely had a clean house but I had a special closet saved for emergency visits. This closet housed loads of laundry, fast food bags, and boxes of trash.  When people came over they assumed I was neat and tidy, not knowing about my stash. — In my late teens I worked in a department store. While working a boring day shift, I pretended to faint in order to be sent home.  The reason? My girlfriends were going water skiing and I wanted to go. As a side note, I don’t recommend doing this if you work in a corporate job.  Did you know state law requires a company to contact an ambulance if an employee faints? I was not equipped with this information and was surrounded by with a wide array of handsome firemen and EMT’s… On second thought if you are single this may be an excellent opportunity to meet someone 🙂 It couldn’t possibly be a waste of time and resources on the part of emergency crew. fireman A few years ago, I knowingly took a sick employee on a work trip with me because I liked her the most.  When we got into town she was horribly ill.  Since I had brought her I couldn’t have her call in sick so I taught her how to faint to be excused from her work shift.  Not to worry this environment would not necessitate a 911 call.  The bar industry calls a cab not an ambulance. —– In my twenties I was constantly running late. Instead of curbing my poor behavior I would count on people to forgive me because I was cute.  If they didn’t I would be confused, and wonder why they were so mean! Now, when I am in a hurry at Target I will look down and quietly cut off others in the check out line, then give my surprised, “Oh my gosh I didn’t see you” smile and it usually works. —- When I see people I haven’t been good with keeping up with I will duck the other direction. When I get home I will send them a message telling them I have been thinking about them and schedule plans to get together. Younger me LOVED running into people. It was so fun! I typically ran into them at night and we would be drinking and I would tell them how we needed to hang out the following week and forget to follow through. —— As soon as I got pregnant I traded in my shiny sports car for the largest most ridiculous SUV I could convince Mike to purchase.  Now that I am so big I am more aggressive and cut people off, knowing I am bigger.  I always smile, wave, and say THANKS as if they had a choice. suv When I was younger and couldn’t find a parking spot, I would park in red and put my hazard lights on.  This worked almost every time.  When my car was finally towed I figured it equated to a small price to pay for all the illegal parking I had done over the years. —– I have used the having kids excuse at least a dozen times to get out of something–usually work related that I don’t want to do. Years ago, the flat tire excuse worked at least a dozen times to get out of something–usually work related that I didn’t want to do.  —  In my twenties I became obscenely in debt.  I spent thousands of dollars on designer clothes and handbags and fabulous trips with my girlfriends.  Toward the end of my spending I recall using three credit cards to purchase one top.  I was not embarrassed. As a mom I try to buy key groceries on sale. I love seeing the “savings” at the end of the checkout and consider the wine I purchase to be free if it is the same amount of the amount discounted.  Hooray! yippee1(image from http://www.indieberries.com/)

Looking at this list I couldn’t help but laugh.  My parents swear I am a fabulous person and have grown up so much over the years.  They are biased.  I do know I am a much better friend than when I was younger.  I believe I am kinder, more empathetic, and genuinely concerned with others.  But today’s blog isn’t to tout my growth as a human being. xoxo Mari

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