It’s Not That Bad – Empathy vs Sympathy

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“It’s not that bad.”

Said in compassion, these are still four words that nullify another person’s experience.

It takes away their right to mourn, to grieve, to experience defeat or loss. It says, “YOU don’t know how you feel, but I do.”

I used to be guilty of this, and probably will be again at some point if I am not present. It’s natural for us to want to minimize someone’s suffering or to offer a different perspective (especially if WE are the problem!) and so we say:

“It’s not that bad.”

If you really want to connect with someone and help them, you have to be willing to take a risk, to open yourself up, to be okay with pain.

Instead of taking away someone’s right to their experience, help them understand it on their own terms, in their own way.

Ask, “How bad is it?”

And allow the reply.

It might be uncomfortable to hear the truth, but it’s the only way to get through something, really process it and grow.

“How bad is it?”

Now you can have a healing conversation.

Because sometimes it’s really bad, and a burden too hard to carry.

And sometimes it’s not so bad after all, once someone is allowed to look at the situation without constraints or conditions.

A lot of people feel that you must NEVER focus on the bad or bad things will happen. Just keep your mind exclusively positive ALL the time.

That is denying the very purpose and path of experience and growth. That philosophy can be unhealthy when taken to extremes.

If you don’t freely acknowledge where the struggles are and what they are, you simply steal your opportunity to learn!

This also works for the state of the world.

And it’s a very good way to diagnose something honestly and then to work toward making it better.

After all, once you know how deep it goes, you have the map for getting back out again.

And so, “How bad is it” can eventually become, “So what’s left that’s good?” And “How much more amazing can it get?”

There is hope for you, for me, for All Our Relations.

And it starts by allowing the truth of the moment, of a struggle, of a feeling, to be expressed.

It starts with that level of gentle kindness and humility.

Hiy hiy

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Theresa Wiseman, Nursing Scholar, studied very diverse professions where empathy is relevant and came up with four qualities of empathy:

  1. Perspective taking, the ability to take the perspective of another person
  2. Staying out of judgement
  3. Recognizing emotion in other people
  4. Communicating that recognition

Empathy is a choice and its a vulnerable choice.

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Remembering Every Day

This is T______ Anderson. Born in 1969, the Summer of Love. He’s a husband, father, son. Pictured here with one of his boys at a Blue Jays game, he’s also a hero. Not just for who he is on a day to day basis, but because he has dedicated his career to serving his nation and has gone on Peace Keeping missions and to War too many times for comfort.

He is also my older brother by five years.

We grew up in a rough neighbourhood. I have many memories from these times, but there’s one that stands out when I think of my brother.

I loved to dig in the sand and the dirt when I was a kid. I loved to feel the grains between my fingers and to build. Towers, bridges, little towns. One summer day, I think I was around 7 years old, I spent the whole morning digging and building and driving my Hot Wheels through the little metropolis. I was so absorbed in this little world that I didn’t notice the real danger approaching. In every rough neighbourhood you’re going to have your bullies.

One of mine lived a few houses down. He was a few years older than me and lived half a block away and was pretty much the scourge of all the small kids in the area. Tough, unnaturally strong for a child, he had a rolling swagger and an anger in him I didn’t understand until I got older and saw what poverty and abuse can do to a family, and to a child. But understanding was years away at that moment.

He came ambling up, saw my game and my tiny city and started stamping on it, crushing the streets and stores, crystals of sand flying up into my face, the toy cars bent and the tires snapped off. I tried to stop him, but he kicked me in the chest and down I went. As I fell, my frustration surged and I stood up again and shoved him, trying to push him away. One punch was all it took and I was down and out for the count.

The rest has been told to me many times over the years.

I guess my sister saw what was happening and ran over to stop it, but got a punch in the face. My brother had been just coming outside the house too when he saw all this begin and by the time I got knocked out he was already running into the fray. There was a bit of a tussle, but my brother put that bully down and by this time half the neighbours had come outside to see what was going on.

Amid all the noise, my brother picked me up and gently carried me to the house, my face caked with sand and blood, my sister’s sobs hanging in the air as she ran to get towels.

Over the years, my brother carried me many times. I was always knocking myself out trying to perform impossible feats of daring on my bike, but he never had to fight for me again. A couple years later I recall finally standing up to another bully and as things started, I glanced toward the house. My brother was standing at the door and I knew he was there not to save me, but to make sure I stood up on my own, that I picked my battles wisely. But that’s a story for another day.

Yesterday as I watched the honour given to our soldiers here in Canada, I thought a lot about my big brother. We haven’t been in touch in a few years, life being what it is, and I couldn’t help the surge of love and pride and gratitude that came and washed over me. Nor would I have wanted to.

From war to war, battle to battle, to death in the field or in training, injuries stacked upon injuries, comrades fallen and families without loved ones, they sacrifice all for our benefit, so that we, as Canadians, have the blessing of living in an amazing country in an even more amazing time in history. Our luxuries and dramas, our opportunities and triumphs, all rest on the backs of those who fight to make it possible. We have our personal struggles, to be sure, and it’s not all paradise, but at least we have the chance to make a life for ourselves in this peaceful land.

I am willing to bet that one of our soldiers this very day is facing the hot Afghanistan sun, the acrid smell of gunpowder lingering in the dry air as they pick up a child whose face is caked with blood and sand. They hold that child close to their chest, uniform dusty and dirtied, and they carry that light, limp body to safety.

All politics aside, the desire to do good, to be strong for others when other strength fails, the will to see a job done and done right, and the discipline to work as a team – these are the attributes of those who wouldn’t call themselves heroes, but to me, these men and women are exactly that.

Our Heroes.

And we will always remember them.

Thanks, my brother.

I love you.