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.
Have you ever wished you could erase someone or something from your mind? That you could go back to that time when you hadn’t messed up or been hurt? We long for that before, don’t we? We hold on to the anger or regret because we miss that before so much, that innocent time before something wounded us or before we wounded someone else.
But holding that emotion grounds us in the past and our wounds don’t heal, but fester. It happened. We can’t erase it or take it back. We need to acknowledge that bad stuff happens, sometimes stuff we do ourselves, and move on, forgiving ourselves and others, into the future we have in front of us now rather than longing for the future we had in front of us before.
This, right here, right now, is what your life is. The future in front of you is built on all the things that have happened to you and things you have done up to this point, even the bad things.
Step into that future, let go of the past, and be the best you you can be.
For many of us, our childhoods were pretty structured or were spent pleasing others to the point where we don’t completely know what we enjoy or what brings us pleasure. One of the joys of adulthood is laying down other’s expectations and pressures and discovering who we are deep down.
Emily says it well,
is not really how it works. You aren’t a ten-dollar bill in last winter’s coat pocket.
You are also not lost. Your true self is right there, buried under cultural conditioning, other people’s opinions, and inaccurate conclusions you drew as a kid that became your beliefs about who you are. “Finding yourself” is actually returning to yourself. An unlearning, an excavation, a remembering who you were before the world got its hands on you.
Take a minute and think about what you loved as a child before ‘the world got its hands on you’. Is there a way to return to that joy in some way today?
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)
Joy is a fascinating emotion. It often springs up in us at surprising times. There is something of a wellspring vibe to it, as if it bubbles up in us with little bearing to our circumstance in life or particular experience. As C. S. Lewis notes,
“I call it Joy. ‘Animal-Land’ was not imaginative. But certain other experiences were… The first is itself the memory of a memory. As I stood beside a flowering currant bush on a summer day there suddenly arose in me without warning, and as if from a depth not of years but of centuries, the memory of that earlier morning at the Old House when my brother had brought his toy garden into the nursery. It is difficult or find words strong enough for the sensation which came over me; Milton’s ‘enormous bliss’ of Eden (giving the full, ancient meaning to ‘enormous’) comes somewhere near it. It was a sensation, of course, of desire; but desire for what?…Before I knew what I desired, the desire itself was gone, the whole glimpse… withdrawn, the world turned commonplace again, or only stirred by a longing for the longing that had just ceased… In a sense the central story of my life is about nothing else… The quality common to the three experiences… is that of an unsatisfied desire which is itself more desirable than any other satisfaction. I call it Joy, which is here a technical term and must be sharply distinguished both from Happiness and Pleasure. Joy (in my sense) has indeed one characteristic, and one only, in common with them; the fact that anyone who has experienced it will want it again… I doubt whether anyone who has tasted it would ever, if both were in his power, exchange it for all the pleasures in the world. But then Joy is never in our power and Pleasure often is.”
The Shape of My Early Life
Joy is distinct from pleasure and happiness. It is an abundance, a bliss, an immeasurable gratitude for the privilege of being. It isn’t meant to be ignored, but embraced, relished, cherished. Not as a byproduct of some other experience, but in itself.
As Mary Oliver says,
“If you suddenly and unexpectedly feel joy, don’t hesitate. Give in to it. There are plenty of lives and whole towns destroyed or about to be. We are not wise, and not very often kind. And much can never be redeemed. Still life has some possibility left. Perhaps this is its way of fighting back, that sometimes something happened better than all the riches or power in the world. It could be anything, but very likely you notice it in the instant when love begins. Anyway, that’s often the case. Anyway, whatever it is, don’t be afraid of its plenty. Joy is not made to be a crumb. (Don’t Hesitate)”
Swan, Poems and Prose Poems
If you should be lucky enough to feel joy bubbling up, savor it.
When you get a group of kids together, and ask them their favorite color, there is always that one kid who picks rainbow. I admire this kid.
I was never this kid.
I’ve always played by the rules, even if it caused me tons of angst trying to somehow weigh my fondness for the blue of a cloudless summer day, or the lavender of a jacaranda tree, or buttercup yellow, or soft blush pink. How do people pick these kind of things? Favorites?
But the rainbow kid stretches his arms wide and says, ‘I’ll pick them all, all the colors of the rainbow.’ This kid embraces color, life, variety, and has little concern with limits and rules. Gusto. Zest. Vibrancy. These are the attributes of this kid.
I hope, but cannot confirm, that I wasn’t the kid who told him to pick just one. Who told him rainbow wasn’t a color, and that picking rainbow was like picking infinite wishes from a genie. Against the rules. Or that kind of teacher for that matter. Because sometimes we are meant to throw our arms wide and say, ‘All of it. I love all of it. Color itself. How wonderful we live in a world of color.’
(I’ve settled in on answering periwinkle because I adore that color, it was my grandmother’s favorite color, and I adored her, and it has a wonderful sounding name that tickles me.)