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“What is the best way to ease some one’s pain and suffering? In this beautifully animated RSA Short, Dr. Brené Brown reminds us that we can only create a genuine empathic connection if we are brave enough to really get in touch with our own fragilities.”
Brown asserts that empathy and shame are on opposite ends of a continuum. Shame results in fear, blame (of self or others), and disconnection. Empathy is cultivated by courage, compassion, and connection, and is the most powerful antidote to shame. Brown references Theresa Wiseman’s four defining attributes of empathy:
to be able to see the world as others see it
to be nonjudgmental
to understand another person’s feelings
to communicate your understanding of that person’s feelings
Brown defines empathy as a skill, and so she stresses actively practicing giving and receiving empathy.”
I really didn’t understand the difference between sympathy and empathy until later in life. My childhood and most of adult years were caught up in being less than vulnerable. I wore a mask most of the time to show my toughness. As the aging and maturity process took hold, feeling more vulnerable was scary until researching and writing my book, including starting this blog… To be “nonjudgmental” was to be weak. In my family growing up we spent most of our free time knocking each other down a notch or two. My parents wanted us to be tough, especially Dad, since his world was all about surviving WWII and the Korean War as the “Chief Boatswain’s Mate,” BMC for short, including training “boots” at the US Naval Training Center. We siblings were treated like sailors on one of the old man’s ships at sea…or in boot camp. My favorite story is telling folks how well trained I was when first joining the US Navy back in 1963… I flew through boot camp like it was just a refresher course…
All this cosmetic male ego building eventually got me into big trouble, especially in my personal life. I could get away with being the less than a vulnerable guy on the job, but not at home and in interpersonal relationships that make a huge difference. I didn’t know how to love others in ways that showed that truly caring or feeling the pain of others close to me existed at all. I really had little or no empathy, just sympathy! Sympathy simply represents how you feel sorry for the other person’s weak behaviors during times of stress. You know, “suck it up” soldier!
My life changed forever once learning about how vulnerable we are as humans, and how much happier we all can be by showing each other that we care, really care…. One example of my own personal behavior these days, as a work in progress, is taking extra time to listen very carefully to what others are saying to me rather than moving into lecture mode on how important it is to be tough minded. I try to spend time asking questions to learn more before responding when there are stressful circumstances. Not doing so is a turn-off to loved ones and close friends. Show others in your life they are valued by demonstrating empathy. The short video clip by Dr. Brene’ Brown on “empathy” at the beginning of my post provides an excellent perspective.
Steve Sparks is a retired information technology sales and marketing executive with over 35 years of industry experience, including a Bachelors’ in Management from St. Mary’s College. His creative outlet is as a non-fiction author, writing about his roots as a post-WWII US Navy military child growing up in the 1950s-1960s.