An empathy wall is an obstacle to a deep understanding of another person, one that can make us feel indifferent or even hostile to those who hold different beliefs or whose childhood is rooted in different circumstances.
In 2016, American sociologist, Arlie Hochschild wrote a book titled, “Strangers in their own land”. Many read with interest this exploration and examination of the United States and the rise to power of President Trump. One concept that she outlined has stuck with me over the past four years. In order to understand others who have different values, beliefs and attitudes than us, we may need to climb over an empathy wall in order to develop connections with them.
During these anxiety provoking times, the American presidential debate might have provided a beacon of light and hope for the future. But sadly, it did not. It was simply a spectacle the likes of which most analysts suggest they had never seen before. I have always watched them to develop a deeper understanding of our neighbours to the south.
Although the news feeds seem to be rife with scenes of protest, divisiveness, and violence in America, there are many pressing concerns to be addressed not the least of which is the global pandemic. Perhaps my expectations for this televised debate were too high, but I watched anticipating a signal that things would be moving in a more positive direction.
There wasn’t one.
One wonders how difficult it will be during the next few months for people to climb “an empathy wall” in order to develop connections to work with one another.
Hopefully, the inherent goodness in humanity will prevail and people will be able to climb over this chasm of division so globally we can begin to move forward. Perhaps a sense of hope is the ladder we need to get to where we need to be.
I like to listen. I have learned a great deal from listening carefully. Most people never listen.
Reading news feeds over the past couple of days reveals that on a global level we are not using our ability to listen to one another. There is a constant cacophony of voices aggressively demanding to be heard. Political rhetoric is ramping up, the anxiety of re-opening and returning to school and work is significantly heightened, and people everywhere seem to be shouting at each other.
Listening is a skill that we have to work at and today it seems to be at risk of becoming lost as we collectively demand that others meet our needs. Stepping back, it seems nonsensical that politicians have to resort to shaming us into following public health orders in an effort to keep us safe. Public health doctors who are working tirelessly on our communal behalf, are now having to hire security as their lives are being threatened.
I wonder what it will take for us to learn to listen to one another. It seems that there is no time but the present for humans to work at this particular life skill.
Take the time today to notice the simple task of listening. Are the people in your world hearing your voice? Are you reciprocating and hearing the voices of others before reacting and responding to them? We are constantly and consistently being told to follow some basic strategies to move through this pandemic in the safest possible way.
Our future outcomes seem to depend on a simple yet difficult to achieve skill – listening to one another. Imagine what could happen if all of the people around us would actually take the time to truly listen to what is being shared about the need for everyone of us to follow some basic guidelines.
It is going to take a collective global effort of working together to move through this pandemic. That likely means setting aside some of our needs in order to keep others in our communities safe.
And it will start with all of us taking the time to listen to others around us about how to achieve this.
Opportunities to find deeper powers within ourselves come when life seems most challenging
Typically at this time of the year children return to school and many people are back in the full swing of work following summer vacation and are getting set to resume a myriad of activities. This year there is nothing really “typical” about any of this. Many people around the globe have been challenged by uncertainty caused by the pandemic and our anxiety seems to be hovering at peak levels these days.
Reframing some of the current challenges in our lives as circumstances in which we can develop and strengthen resilience may be helpful. Drawing on the concept of transformational coping, we can learn to perceive stressful events less as threats and more as opportunities for personal growth and development.
Many of our daily routines and plans, both short term and long term, have been disrupted. But there is really choice in how we go about choosing to respond to these chaotic times. If we dig deep to understand how we are adapting and becoming creative, there is a mother lode of lessons that may be helpful for our future selves.
Taking time to focus on what could be rather than what we had hoped would be happening in our lives can help us to remain positive. It is all too easy to dwell on the negative events in our lives and keep ourselves in a place of feeling stuck and overwhelmed. Nothing in our lives has ever been “certain” and clinging to that illusory notion can take us to dark places.
What learning must occur in our lives in order to become more comfortable with constant changes – to foster skills to help us become more resilient? And how does this learning create empathy for those around us who are struggling with the same circumstances? These times are ripe for personal growth that might be missed if we choose not to look for it. Knowing that we still have choice about how we wish to grow during this moment in time seems like it might be key to helping us pivot to where we need to go.
The dark does not destroy the light; it defines it. It’s our fear of the dark that casts our joy into shadows.
It seems challenging to say the least, to stay grounded and positive with so much anxiety and uncertainty looming in our lives these days. It seems that many of us are experiencing an ongoing kaleidoscope of mixed emotions.
We may be watching to understand how the return to school for students around the globe will turn out.
Waiting for information about the timing of a safe vaccine.
Worrying about political pandemonium close to home.
Wondering about the possibility and probability of a second wave.
Feeling frustrated that the positivity of earlier months in the pandemic seems to have vanished.
Being courageous during trying times requires conscious and mindful attention to all that is good in our lives. Finding the self-knowledge within to understand that life is about seeking balance. Being grateful for what we have. Recognizing that shifting between the positive and negative allows us to see the value of both.
Reaching out to our people as often as we can. Our connections with one another remain the most important aspects of our lives. Respecting that will enable us all to safely get through these trying times. May you find both joy and light during these difficult times.
Almost everything will work again if you unplug it for a few minutes…including you
Have you noticed an uptick with your neighbours, or friends, family members talking more about their theories of what might transpire when the kids return to school. Do your conversations now include discussions about the number of active cases of COVID-19 infections as handily as we used to discuss the weather? How often do you find yourself checking online after local health officials release the number of new and recovered cases in your community?
Our news feeds seem full of angry vitriol about what we should or should not be doing to move forward during this pandemic. Whether we should wear a mask or not. Or whether we should provide an economic hand up to those in need. This seems to be set against a backdrop of ongoing images of violence from the United States along with the ramping up of political rhetoric that is moving towards a tsunami of hatred.
At times it seems we have been caught in some strange gravitational pull into a vortex of negative news.
How do we step back from it all and regain our equilibrium?
It seems that we all need to take a collective step back, pause, and regain some balance. Return to a world that has people showing compassion for one another regardless of our identity. A world that once again cares about the environment, and no longer politicizes a public health threat. Finding our footing these days requires a tremendous amount of intentional emotional and psychological energy.
The most sensible strategy seems to be to simply put a pause on all of the outside noise and go analog for a few days. I have found that consciously seeking out opportunities to engage in acts of kindness, generosity, and show empathy for those around me also helps to reset. Writing, and other creative pursuits not only take up these spaces where negativity seems to have infiltrated my life but serve to remind me about the things that work to help me regain balance.
What will you do to reset during these difficult times?