E Is For Empathy

I am halfway through a terrible book. I hate pretty much everything about it. The only reasons I have for continuing to read it are my aversion to leaving books half-finished and this quirk I have which twists unpleasant situations into personal challenges which can only be won by enduring through to the end, whatever that may be. I seriously loathe this book, but every time I want to rant and rave and point out what the author did wrong I am stopped by the simple fact that the author actually wrote and published a book while I still struggle to get a weekly blog post up on time. Knowing how I struggle with consistency, courage, and craft, I cannot help but admire those individuals who put words down on the proverbial paper day after day, who find some way to hush the sounds of negativity and fear, and who are brave enough to let the world read their ideas and imaginings. Seeing the author as a fellow writer enables me to focus on what I admire about them rather than focus on what I might dislike about their work, and my criticisms, at least from the perspective of a writer, are silenced by my respect for their journey.

As a wordsmith, I take particular delight in finding just the right word or phrase to express myself. As a human, I have likes and dislikes and strong opinions. I have discovered that these attributes can sometimes work together to create scathing criticisms composed of words chosen specifically for their capacity to inflict damage upon the victim of my ¬†diatribe. I am very good at making people feel very bad. It probably says more about me than I’d like to reveal when I tell you that I once took pride in that fact. Diminishing the value of an idea or a person through my carefully crafted criticisms gave me a thrill of self-satisfaction, a false sense of increasing the value of my own thoughts, preferences, and personhood by debasing something or someone else. It wasn’t until I struggled to recover from the damage inflicted on me during a verbally abusive relationship that I realized that what I had thought of as wit and cleverness was really abuse heaped on people from my lofty perch of self-aggrandizement.

Empathy, or the ability to understand and share the feelings of another being, is something I am working to cultivate at a greater level than ever before. While it is relatively easy for me to empathize with someone who shares similar traits and experiences, sometimes it takes being treated poorly in the way I have treated others poorly for me to be able to truly enter into an understanding that inspires kindness and compassion rather than criticism and judgment. But I have discovered that there is one sure-fire connection I can make with people even when their words, attitudes, or actions completely boggle my mind or leave me fuming: I know we’re all living this life with the best tools we have at the moment. When I step away from the emotions of the moment and find common ground with another person, even if it is just our most basic humanity, I can enter into a place of empathy and we are both better off for it.

The wisdom of Yogi Teas as captured by my friend Rebecca.

The wisdom of Yogi Teas as captured by my friend Rebecca Freitag.

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