Posts Tagged ‘Empathy’

Love

May 11, 2012

This is the third of a series of posts with a soon to come final summation.  The first two posts dealt with Law and Truth.  This post is about Love.  I should say that I am no expert on Love. In fact, Love is the principle of what people are supposed to learn from this earthly experience.  Again though, it’s not mine to own but I have some things to share.

I have three ideas of Love to share here.

First Part. I’ve read a book called “The Art Of Loving”, by the renowned psychologist Erich Fromm(http://www.amazon.com/The-Art-Loving-Erich-Fromm/dp/0061129739/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1336741193&sr=1-1).

As I pondered this great book by Erich Fromm I realized that love as we commonly understand it has primary and secondary meanings.   Usually we imagine Love as a couples romantic Love or family Love. In Mr. Fromms book he highlights other loves of Brotherly Love, Motherly Love, Self-Love, and Love of God.  Even two of these are Family love.

I pondered his ideas and realized that there was in fact an infinite or near infinite variety of ways to Love.  I realized that Love should be practiced in any interconnectable capacity.   I realized that there are different degrees and levels of Love to be practiced and used by all of us.

Sticking with the idea of family love I could see that we should strive to be good and loving Mothers and Fathers.

I could see that we should be good and loving Daughters and Sons.

We should strive to be good Aunts and Uncles, Nieces and Nephews.

We should strive to be good and loving Grandmas and Grandpas, Grandchildren and Cousins.

While we all know of blood ties and relationships to various family members, I don’t think we understood the opportunities and responsibilities of loving all within the family(In certain ethnic families this is automatic but here in America we often have far flung and separated family ties that inhibit our love instinct) .

If we expand the Universal Net Of Love we can see that we can be loving individuals in all of our relationships.

Are we good Neighbors?

Are we good Co-workers?

Are we good Teachers and/or Students?

Are we good Citizens?

These last four examples are other ways in which we wouldn’t ordinarily think of these relationships as Love situations.  But, if handled deftly and with awareness instead of mechanical and  arbitrary motions, a greater understanding of the world can be known.

Part of the point here is that we tend to think of love as high and mighty, big and important without realizing the true Love opportunity unfolds around us everyday and in every way.

Second Part. My friend Ed and I were talking one day and he shared with me the true nature of the love for our respective children.   He explained to me that, “the kids and teenagers don’t even know how much we love them.  They think that love is birthday parties and teen age infatuation.”  Being a new parent at the time I just nodded my head, “Yea, you’re right.” He continued on, “If you think of the love that we have for our kids you can see that it’s a pure Love…..it’s not romantic, it’s not sexual….it’s not driven. It flows and falls off of us to our kids.   There is nothing we wouldn’t do for our kids. Nothing.”   I sat up now and realized exactly what he was talking about, “Yea, that’s absolutely true. I’ve never really loved in this way before.”   When Ed left later I pondered his message for a long, long time because I realized that it was true.  The Love that my wife and I have for our kids is totally different from anything I had ever experienced. It is in fact one of the most pure and selfless loves we can give.

Third Part. In my late twenties, my mother and I were talking one day and the subject was about a local boy who had made a big mistake in his life and everyone knew it. His actions made him the local pariah.  He was being scorned very much by our local village. Unfortunately, no one wanted to know him or even be around him.   I felt sorry for him(bleeding heart liberal) but understood the hatred of the community.   The amazing part of this whole story was that the Mother of this boy was absolutely certain that he didn’t do these things. She was absolutely defending him to the bitter end. This was even more confounding in the community because all the facts indicted and convicted him. It appeared to be a tragedy upon a tragedy.  Soon the local people couldn’t stand to be around her either.  It was a loyalty and love I couldn’t understand.

It wasn’t until I became a parent and I reflected on my friend Ed and his story that I finally understood.  The mothers love was absolutely Unconditional.  I realized too that this must be how God loves me! More and more I realized the absolute vehicle of motherhood confers a certain love that is magnified a hundredfold over our other understandings.

When I think of the function of Motherhood and how pre-life decisions are made I wonder how we could ever do what we do?

I have this image of God speaking to a soul/spirit and conferring with them of their spiritual curriculum this time around,  “Angel #99, I have a special mission for you this time to fulfill one of my main objectives.   This time I want you to be Steve’s mother.”

Angel #99 says, “But why? What’s in it for me?” God gives an infinite love and sternful expression all at the same time and says,  “Your job this time is to give absolute, unconditional love to Steve.  You’ll care for him, cloth him, feed him, and defend him no matter what. You’ll love him the same way I love you, with your whole heart, your whole mind, and your whole soul.  Any questions?”

“Yea,” Angel #99 says, “why do I have to do it. I don’t even like him.  How can I do this?   Isn’t this asking a lot of me?  Maybe someone else can do it.”

God laughs and says, “You and Steve are perfectly suited for one another.  Your respective life lessons go hand in glove.  You needn’t worry, the chemical, biological and instinctual feelings will take over.   Soon….very soon…you will see what I see in Steve and you will also see more clearly exactly what I see in YOU.  I’m not asking you to do anything different or even asking the impossible. I’m just asking you to love someone like I love you.”

Angel #99 shuffles the feet, flaps the wings, and says, “In God we trust, on earth as it is in heaven.”

Happy Mothers Day,

All that I am, or hope to be, I owe to my angel mother. 
               – Abraham Lincoln
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Empathy(102)

June 28, 2011

After my teenage introduction to empathy I proceeded along in life and more growth.   I did try to be empathetic with various individuals and although I was better than before I realize now that I was still a novice.  It wasn’t until I was 30 years old that I got my next lesson in empathy.  I hate saying there are empathy skills because that goes against the whole grain of humanness.  Skill and empathy shouldn’t be in the same sentence.

I had joined for a short while a group that tried to help people with their problems.  This volunteer group was a group that was started around the local university in the 1960’s.   Their basic modus operandi was to take anonymous calls from people who seemed to be immediately experiencing problems or depression.     There was a rotating crew to handle the phone lines.  A caller might get a different person every time.  Dependency was to be discouraged but if people needed to call back again then so be it.

When this group was started it was at the height of Viet Nam, political upheaval, emerging drug use and experimentation,  the arrival of birth control  and with it free love.   Broken relationships, bad drugs trips, social disorientation were common everyday events.  The calls were anonymous for both caller and receiver.   Part of the reason was to ensure confidentiality.   The other reason was to help people open up and also to keep people from being dependant. If its anonymous it goes to the grave and no one knows. I heard about the group and it sounded like a great helping and learning opportunity.

I attended the two-day orientation and sat down in the auditorium.  Methods, rules and expectations were discussed for the potential members.  I was assimilating these things when the next most important life lesson in empathy occurred before me.   They proceeded with onstage demonstrations of caller/responder episodes.   Since it was visual and there didn’t need to be any phones they had the caller/responder sit back to back.  This aided us, the audience, because we still wanted to see them speaking but also it helped us concentrate on the voices as supposed phone calls.

I listened to the first caller and she was having a relationship problem.  She was pouring her heart out and the responder was giving these short, terse answers.  Now this is where the first disconnect with me came in.  I didn’t understand what was going on.  Truth to tell, the problem as I saw it was that the responder didn’t give any answers and I didn’t understand that.   As a man I’m a problem solver, a fixer, a repairer of anything with only baling wire and duct tape.  In a quick man’s synopsis I surmised that she should “dump the bum.”

The second caller/responder came on.  This caller was “higher than then a giraffe.”  A drug induced dialogue ensued.  The responder basically inquired on the caller’s safety and security. He asked what drugs the guy was on and if he was going to be OK.   The druggie rambled on and he sounded like he was lonely.   Again the quick, furtive responses were given and then the caller finally hung up.   In my mind I couldn’t figure out why the responder didn’t say “Hey dummy, don’t do drugs. They’re against the Law.”

The third caller came on.  He said that he sometimes contemplates suicide. In fact though he was still far from suicide.  The responder made the inquiry if that was an immediate condition(possible suicide) and found out it wasn’t. Again the responder replied in short “Uh huh” answers.   He listened and listened and listened.   There was no solution.  This guys life was a mess.  I didn’t know what I would’ve said.   Finally the call ended.  It did appear that the caller was feeling differently after the call.

The mediator came out and asked what had happened, did anyone notice anything.  A woman to my left said “He didn’t gave any answers.”   Everyone starts talking, “yeah or neh.”   I’m thinking it’s a failure, where’s the helping hand.  As the sound tones down the mediator says, “We don’t provide answers.  That’s Ann Landers job.   What we do is try to give people their voice,  we let them talk and that’s why they called.  They want someone to listen to them without judgement, acrimony, or fear.”  My second “empathy lesson” light was coming on.

The Volunteer Group’s job was helping people through right now, to carry on to tomorrow.  They didn’t believe in answers because of several reasons. Each human being should discover their own answers.  Frequently no one right answer exists.   None of the people were licensed psychologists or counselors.  To provide a so-called answer was against the law.   Instead references and directions were made for various forms of professional help if people were open to it.

To summarise the Group’s philosophy, they Validated people and they recognized their problems as real and urgent.  The means to reply wasn’t to give answers, it was to listen and communicate the worth of the individual. Their talking style was to say, “I understand, I feel for you, you’re important, your feelings are important, your ideas are important.”  That doesn’t mean that they never used the NO word, they did.  The object was to allow the caller to Vent their immediate feelings, to somehow come to grips with their own problem after a sometimes emotional discourse and then the caller could begin to SOLVE their own problems.   Frequently it would never make it that far.

What I learned was that solutions were out.  The other person’s thought’s and feelings are just about more important than anything in the world.  To facilitate this dialogue certain words and sentences are used to compel the caller to talk EVEN MORE.  The best way to get them talking is for the responder to talk almost as little as possible and to use momentum pushing words.   I’ve made list of the phrases and words and sentences that best accomplish this.  These are not my own but they do push the caller along. These are the MAGIC WORDS:

un huh

yep

really?

you don’t say!

tell me again!

for true!  (a southern expression)

what did you do next?

that must have been terrible, (or heartbreaking, difficult, taxing, frustrating, unbearable, embarrassing)

I hear that!

why!

what then?

you feel how?

I’ve done that too, many people have!

me too! (indicating their not alone)

whose says?

Each sentence is about 5 words or less. It’s important for the caller to go through the emotional catharsis first and then IF a solution can be found by the CALLER  they can make it their own.  Most of our solutions will be useless.   Again as I stated in another of my posts this is why therapy takes so long. The therapist is trying to guide the patient to their own conclusions.   This is the only way they can own them.

“To listen well, is as powerful a means of influence as to talk well, and is as essential to all true conversation.”

                                                                                                                 – Chinese Proverb

Empathy(101)

June 4, 2011

I was thirteen. I knew as much as any other thirteen year old boy which was almost nothing. We were crossing the football practice field on the way to my house.  My friend Jon was recently broke up with his girlfriend.  “What am I going to do now?”, he said. The breakup was not his idea.  He had been sullen and quiet all day. “I was really starting to like her a whole lot!  Do you think I should call her again in about a week?”   I started to say “Yea” but I didn’t really know and in fact I actually didn’t really care.   I didn’t really know what to say so I punted and said, “Gee, I don’t know.” I didn’t know anything way back then. Jon clammed up again.

We finally get to my house and sit down at the kitchen table. My mother comes in, says ‘Hi”,  and proceeds to take care of the dishes she had washed earlier. I’m talking to Jon and he really isn’t responding. My mother senses that something is wrong and asks Jon point-blank  if he’s OK. He blurts out that “Nancy and I broke up with each other.   She wants to see other guys.”   My mother just looks at him and then she says, “Really, did you want to talk about it?” He says “Yea.”  She sits down and him and her start talking.  He starts talking about Nancy.

I just sat there.  My hands propping up my head, my eyes going back and forth with their words.   I didn’t really want to do this.  I didn’t even know it but I was afraid to “go there.”

At this point an amazing thing happened.  I started to see. I listened and saw that my best friend, Jon, actually had very strong feelings for Nancy.  I saw that my Mom knew how to talk to him and how to listen to him.  I saw my friend and I saw my Mom in a totally different light. They talked for about 40 minutes.  For sure my Mom had talked to me like that before but she was my Mom, that’s what Mom’s do.  I didn’t know she could talk that way with others or that it was even acceptable. 

 My Mom saw a need that wasn’t food, wasn’t warmth, and wasn’t security.   She saw that my friend needed some solace, he needed a balm.  Her words weren’t magic, in fact I can’t remember one sentence that stands out from my memory.  She somehow managed to find out how he was feeling. More importantly she allowed him to vent his feelings and to validate them. She listened to HIM.  She affirmed that many people have had the same feelings. She shared some of her own experiences and knowledge of boyfriend/girlfriend stories.

He still didn’t feel great, but I could tell that what my Mom had said, had made an impact on him.  Finally he turned to me and said “lets go back to my house.” We left and made our way across the practice field.  Jon turned to me about halfway across and said without judgement that “the way your Mom let me talk and explain myself was the way I wanted you to talk with me.”  At the time I fumbled some sort a of an apology.  Inside I knew he that was right. What good are your friends if they can’t lift you up or support you?   But for me at that young an age, I didn’t even know what the word was for what had happened.  Later I learned the word was Empathy. The word means “the intellectual identification with or vicarious experiencing of the feelings, thoughts, or attitudes of another(Dictionary.com).”

My Mom showed me.

My friend told me.

The great gift of human beings is that we have the power of empathy.
                                                              -Meryl Streep