The more I experience in life, the more I understand the complexities of human condition. I don’t think you really know the full scope of what it is to live, until you’ve suffered. Over the last few years, I have definitely felt it - marriage separation, chronic illness, failed business and bankruptcy, just to name some topline events that have given me some amazing new perspectives on life. This is the beautiful wisdom that comes with age right?
I wrote about INVISIBLE as one of the words I associate with this condition, because sometimes I feel it, but mostly because I see other people’s feelings of invisibility…
I now have a small idea of what it is like to feel debilitated and unable, in a world that is designed for the able.
I understand how it feels when someone is frustrated with the health system and can’t find the help they need.
I know so well the trials of migraine clusters, pain, and the fear and anxiety when you forget to bring medication with you.
I feel the stress of challenges in finances, employment and capacity to earn.
I do feel the sense of disconnection in my own experiences, but not to the point of being totally alone and alienated. I have realistic perspective about the impact of these threats to my own well being. So I know that for others, it is much worse. I would never be without food and shelter in the face of the worst, but many could be.
I have always felt something for people on the outer, those who struggle to fit into our ever increasing capitalist structure. I’ve developed a new sense of empathy, for those on the edges of the bell curve. It’s not right that we don’t accommodate, accept, include and champion ALL humans, however weird, awkward, well or unwell, quirky, normal, and anything in between.
If there is something our world is at risk of losing, it’s empathy. This used to be a natural part of communities, because we use to be more committed to the broader group. Whether we liked each other nor not, there was just more time, space and obligation to take care of the humans around us. Communities are formed differently now, only with like minded people, and not by geography. And as much as technological advancement has been able to connect, it also has it’s perils and contribution to disconnection. I’m sure there was a time where we supported one another without it being such a big deal.
“Joan up the road is sick? I’ll go get the kids, and make a lasagne. “
Now it’s a bit more like:
“Who is Joan? Does she deserve my effort? Is she within my ‘tribe’? Are we even Facebook friends? Has she ever done anything for me? Is her sickness even real? Why doesn’t she help out at school? She’s probably gluten free, and that’s a hassle. Someone else will be looking after Joan and her family.” OR, even worse… it just doesn’t cross someone’s mind to do something, and if it does, they don’t know what to do.
There was a sense of community, intrinsic values around being kind and helpful, time to give, and much less anxiety.
Judgement is imposing your idea of what life should be, onto someone else, in the expectation that they should get in line. Even if you don’t say it out loud, I can see it on people’s faces. When they don’t fully believe that my pain could be that bad. Especially when I’m pretty good at looking fine. (Yeah gurrrrl)
The thing with empathy, is that just needs to be a state of living. Not something you only bust out on very special occasions, like it’s a finite resource. Just live in empathy.
What does that look like?
It means being kind, even when people are mean.
It means going out of your way for those you know are having a hard time, and that can just be a text message that take 10 seconds to write.
It means taking time to understand people.
It means thinking about what it would be like if you were in someone elses situation.
It means being vulnerable, real, authentic, without ego.
It means looking for opportunities to be helpful.
It means giving without expectation of return.
It means being less jerk, and more cool human.
I fall into that weird category of ‘empath’ humans. I don’t really know about science behind it, but I have passed all the online quizzes. I feel, like, really FEEL people’s pain, challenges, and joy, but more broadly, the plight of community. I feel the weight of knowing there is a better way of life together, but often NOT knowing how I can help, or having the energy to. I can see people suffering in their disconnection, overworked bodies, undervalued souls, and tired minds in this mad modern life.
Sometimes, this burden paralyses me.
It’s the burden of fostering connectedness. I want more than anything to feel connected, and to see others connected. I understand through my Chiari journey how easy it is to slip away into isolation. To feel lonely, and misunderstood. I can empathise with those who are in that position, so much more now. When your body isn’t able to do what your mind wants to, and you’re judged, and questioned, and abandoned, what’s needed is empathy, and connection.
What on earth are we here for, if it isn’t to connect. And how can you connect if you don’t let your heart reach out and touch someone’s pain. It’s a scary thing to delve into a situation that will remind you of your own mortality. But wouldn’t you want someone to do that for you? It’s not a matter of ‘if’, but ‘when’ things go south, we all need a community.
Empathy starts with questions within yourself, and ends with reaching out to feel what someone is feeling, and to be with them in it.
On the contrary sympathy is offering a sandwich when what someone really needed was a glass of water. More about sympathy later.
This video is one of my favourite explanations of empathy.
I hope we can all be more empathetic to the challenges of the minorities, the fringe, the unusual and the unwell.
Let’s just do our best to live in empathy.