These days there is a lot of noise—everyone has a soapbox—but I wonder how much is really heard. This article explores the problem of autobiographical listening, listening with the hope of injecting a story about yourself into the mix. There are levels to this. The matcher, who always has a similar vacation or achievement to switch the conversation to. The topper who has an even better vacation or achievement to turn the conversation to. And the outright conversation narcissist where really all parts of the conversation somehow turn on him.
But if our goal is connection, we really need to learn how to better listen:
“Listen with curiosity. Speak with honesty. Act with integrity. The greatest problem with communication is we don’t listen to understand. We listen to reply. When we listen with curiosity, we don’t listen with the intent to reply. We listen for what’s behind the words.”
Roy T. Bennett, The Light in the Heart
Practice listening to understand. Avoid autobiographical listening:
“When we fail to listen from the other person’s perspective, we are listening through our own lens and tend to pass more judgments compared to simply listening,” Reigstad added. “There are four types of autobiographical listening ― evaluate, probe, advise and interpret. These responses tend to have us asking questions based on our experiences, offering advice to fix the problem and so on. It’s important to resist the urge and allow the other person to speak.”
Today, I want to lift up the caregivers. Whether for an aging parent, ailing spouse, struggling child, or young grandchildren, or all or some of these together. It takes a good person to care and do their best to help.
Rosalyn Carter made this insight:
There are only four kinds of people in the world: Those who have been caregivers. Those who are currently caregivers. Those who will be caregivers. And those who will need a caregiver.
We are all interconnected. We all will experience a time when we need help and times when we can offer help. It is a blessing to care about others and to let others care for us. Caring is at the heart of every good thing done in the world.
So, to the caregivers: may God bless you. Your work is making a better world.
Compassion is an active, engaging emotion. It recognizes that another’s pain is as important as your own and seeks to help alleviate it. It is the emotion behind all social justice reform.
Compassion comes from empathy which is very different from sympathy. Dr. Eric Perry describes the two like this:
To better understand empathy, it is important to distinguish it from sympathy. Sympathy is the ability to understand another person’s situation from your point of view. It is a self-centered point of view that helps you understand what the other person is going through based on your own circumstances. You are able to acknowledge how the other person is feeling but, from a distance. You do not become emotionally connected to the person. For example, you are able to sympathize with someone having problems in their relationship because you have had problems in your own relationship. You do not feel what they are feeling but you have an understanding of what they are experiencing.
Empathy is a bit more complicated and abstract. In order to experience empathy, you must have the ability to identify the emotion and to place yourself in the other person’s position. The focus of empathy is self-less. You are experiencing another person’s emotional life by your ability to connect with them. In a sense, you are vicariously feeling the emotion. For example, through empathy, you are able to feel a stranger’s loss of a child, even if you are childless, by seeing the loss through their perspective. Through this connection, you are able to wear the emotional skin of another and essentially feel with them.
The inability to imagine yourself in someone else’s place in order to understand what they are feeling will result in difficulty in connecting with others.
Narcissists and sociopaths can feel sympathy. They use their knowledge of a person’s emotions, not to help them, but to manipulate and control them. But the empathetic person shares the pain of another and works to alleviate it.
The good new is that compassion is like a muscle and can be practiced and strengthened. In this fascinating article by Greater Good, they outline some steps for increasing your empathy.
They identify four goals to the practice:
Bringing attention or awareness to recognizing that there is suffering (cognitive)
Feeling emotionally moved by that suffering (affective)
Wishing there to be relief from that suffering (intentional)
A readiness to take action to relieve that suffering (motivational)
Faith is not a contest. It’s not praying louder or more eloquently for all to see. It’s not giving or fasting for show.
It’s an internal, deeply personal thing between you and God. It’s a dark of the night hope, and a bright green day joy. It the bulb pushing its way stubbornly through the soil with the promise of spring. It’s holding on to the values you know to be right even in the face of temptation, or expedience, or doubt.
Lent is a time for us to dig deep into our souls, to reconnect with God and each other, to remind ourselves of who and whose we are, and then live out that truth.
We can’t choose everything in life, but we can choose what kind of person we want to be.
As we deal with storms across the country and unprecedented blizzard watches here in Southern California, consider the importance of rain. Rain can be like encouragement, bringing nourishment and rebirth to dry parched land. It can promote an abundance of life and energy.
But, in excess, rain can cause flooding and landslides. It can sweep people away into rushing water and leave the landscape devastated.
Our words have the same power. We can be supportive and encouraging, fostering life and vitality in those we engage with. Or we can be harsh and critical, pessimistic and judgmental. Our words can both heal and wound. Our choice.
We can choose to be encouraging and supportive, rather than bleak and pessimistic.
We can avoid being the person who rains on someone else’s parade.
With the news this week that former President Jimmy Carter has entered home hospice care, many people have been sharing stories about his accomplishments in office—his efforts for peace, his push for environmental stewardship, and his efforts toward energy independence, among others.
But his most striking accomplishments perhaps are what he has done since he lost his re-election bid. Rather than retreat to Georgia and exit the public arena, he began building houses for the poor, and working for democracy—a principle he firmly believed in—around the world, and standing up for women’s rights, even when that stand conflicted with his religion, and working to eradicate disease and so on. He has never stopped showing up to make a difference.
In a world that has grown more cynical and jaded since his entry into the public spotlight, he continues to show us what it means to walk the walk, quietly, humbly, and without fanfare. Here, surely, is a good and faithful servant of God.
When I was a girl, text books used the term ‘melting pot’ to describe America as if everyone were thrown into one big pot and all the differences were boiled out, with America becoming just one big homogenous pot of glop. But better metaphors have popped up in the years since. Such as a salad bowl:
We don’t need a melting pot in this country, folks. We need a salad bowl. In a salad bowl, you put in the different things. You want the vegetables – the lettuce, the cucumbers, the onions, the green peppers – to maintain their identity. You appreciate differences.
But perhaps my favorite is Jimmy Carter’s:
We become not a melting pot but a beautiful mosaic. Different people, different beliefs, different yearnings, different hopes, different dreams.
I love the idea of a mosaic to define America—beauty in all the bits and pieces, each a small distinct individual unit but also a necessary part of a larger picture.
No matter how you describe it, America at its best, living up to its ideals, is stronger because of its diversity, the unique perspectives, the mix of voices, backgrounds, cultures, and traditions.
It’s startling to hear something you’ve shared with someone in confidence being talked about elsewhere. It makes you feel so exposed, but, more important, it undermines trust in the relationship. Perhaps keeping secrets isn’t possible, and Ben Franklin was right when he said, “Three may keep a secret, if two of them are dead.”
But, just maybe, people should try harder to be worthy of trust. Brené Brown talks about the important elements of trust, to the acronym BRAVING:
Boundaries Setting boundaries is making clear what’s okay and what’s not okay, and why
Reliability You do what you say you’ll do. At work, this means staying aware of your competencies and limitations so you don’t overpromise and are able to deliver on commitments and balance competing priorities.
Accountability You own your mistakes, apologize, and make amends.
Vault You don’t share information or experiences that are not yours to share. I need to know that my confidences are kept, and that you’re not sharing with me any information about other people that should be confidential.
Integrity Choosing courage over comfort; choosing what’s right over what’s fun, fast, or easy; and practicing your values, not just professing them.
Nonjudgment I can ask for what I need, and you can ask for what you need. We can talk about how we feel without judgment.
Generosity Extending the most generous interpretation to the intentions, words, and actions of others.
It is important to learn which stories are yours to share, to leave the decision whether to share in the hands of the person who owns the story, and to be a safe place for your friend to come. We all need friends; let’s be good ones.
Sometimes we just need to get out of the way. What if we think of ourselves as vessels to collect love and then pour it out–not just on ourselves and those close to us, but on everyone and everything? What would our days look like if every encounter with someone else was an opportunity to be loving and thoughtful? What would our world look like if we used our time and energy to love it? What would our relationships look like if we laid down all our weapons–anger, resentment, hurt, selfishness–and just took the time to love each other, as if our very lives depended on it? They just may.