Radical empathy to heal the divideJan 19, 2021
I think about this a lot. The idea of empathy and the need we have to expand our capacity for connection, with ourselves, one another and the world around. We are a hyper medicated and emotionally closed off society. We believe in separateness and disease wreaks havoc in our world and on the earth. It is the illusion of our physical bodies that we can be separate from one another, it is an illusion that our thoughts exist in isolation, it is an illusion that our every action and reaction only influences us and those in our closest sphere. Our connections run deeper than what we have previously wished to see.
Empathy feels like a trendy word, one which is used often and its gravity not fully understood. I see people who promote empathy and listening and when faced with a moment where empathy is asked of them, they choose to promote separation, because, well I am sure they have their reasons. The reasons often circle around a belief that empathy must mean that you agree with them or condone a behaviour. I can speak to this from personal experience, I know that empathy and agreeing with a behaviour do not need to intersect. Empathy actually stands on its own because all it seeks to do is understand another person, not agree or disagree or change their mind, it just says, I understand.
True empathy asks that you extend your empathy beyond what your life experience has shown you. True empathy asks that you put yourself inside someone else’s shoes, shoes which you would have never had to walk in. While on this walk, try not to compare battle scars or imagine how you would have handled that situation "differently" instead try to understand why they, a different human being from you, is the way they are. To do this you must take into consideration the totality of their life experience, their environment and the societal conditioning which raised them.
Easy empathy is given to people who you have many commonalities with, sex, race, socioeconomic status, political beliefs etc. That empathy is easy because of course you can relate, you have on some level lived it. It is the radical empathy that we believe we are somehow excused from, or we believe that if we give it then it condones a behaviour which we do not agree with. Again, empathy does not mean you need to agree. Oomph yes, I am talking about empathy which says, "I don’t agree with this person but I can imagine why they see the world this way." I can step into their shoes and see the totality of their individual life experience and understand them while disagreeing, cue dissonance.
I have to say I am the most challenged in situations where I am asked to give empathy to someone who is hurting me or is behaving in a way I disagree with. It is the hardest and the most radical. It requires you to put down every belief you uphold in your head, which commands that you walk through your own shadow. Our beliefs are put in place so that we can make sense of our lives, it is a natural way that our mind learn to organize our reality. They also trap us in a life we may not believe in, because our beliefs are often given to us. One of the greatest things we can do is challenge our beliefs regularly. Especially the ones we are fixated on, or the ones that we get triggered by because those are the ones that protect us and distort our perception of reality the most. They are the ones we put in place because of something deeply painful that happened to us or to people around us. Your beliefs of protection are often the ones you will be asked to move through to reach radical empathy. Know that when you resist it, there is likely pain there, give yourself grace and move at the pace of your own body, this is where healing begins. Healing the divide in the world means healing the divide inside of ourselves. Healing the divide in ourselves means looking beyond our mind’s beliefs to connect back to our body’s emotions. Be brave and go inward, we all need it.
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