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Archive for June, 2020

This

                This morning I talked to a friend of mine.  He is a black man.  And also a police officer.  “What is this like for you?” I asked him.  I didn’t have to clarify what I meant by ‘this.’  We spoke for nearly an hour.

I asked him because I am not a person of color, a group that is very hurt and angry right now.  I asked him because I am not a police officer, a group that is receiving the brunt of a lot of this hurt and anger right now.  I can imagine the feelings that both of these groups are feeling but only to a certain extent, because I am a white woman who does not work in law enforcement.  And I wanted to understand.  I wanted to listen.

During our conversation, I told him what it was like to be a woman, the precautions that I take on a daily basis as second nature that might never cross the mind of a male.  It’s not the first time I’ve told a man of these things, not looking for sympathy, but rather just understanding.  I know there’s no way for them to fully know these things that I speak of.  But still I speak, and most of the time, these men listen.  And understand.  However, I wish that just once a male friend or lover would approach the topic to me and say “What is this like for you?”

These are not easy conversations to have with each other.  These conversations involve the possibility of hearing some very hard truths about the ways in which it’s difficult for others to show up and feel a sense of belonging in the world around them.  These conversations require a compassionate sort of listening, one that exists outside the realm of judgment, of the need to be right.  These conversations are vulnerable and ask us to see what emotions are hiding beneath the one of anger.

You know what I’m talking about by now, right?  I’m talking about empathy.  Oxford defines it simply: “the ability to understand and share the feelings of another.”  Brene Brown does a better job with this definition. She says “Empathy is connecting with people so we know we’re not alone when we’re in struggle” and “empathy is a way to connect to the emotion another person is experiencing; it doesn’t require that we have experienced the same situation they are going through.”

And, my friends, we are in need of this right now.  I think back on some of the chasms that have happened in my personal relationships.  I think of how the ones that have been mended have involved a meeting in that field that Rumi wrote of, the one that lies beyond the ideas of wrongdoing and rightdoing.  It involved work and asking each other “what is this like for you.”  And the effort was made because the love was there….love and the desire to be happy.

It’s difficult to love what you don’t understand.  Love’s opposite is bred in that place of not understanding.  And hate is not the opposite of love.  Fear is.  Think of the word ‘homophobia’, defined as a dislike of homosexuals, but it’s very root ‘phobia’ telling us all we need to know about where it stems from.

Fear is the scary deep chasm that’s causing so much of the hurt that is happening around us.  Fear is also the thing that is running through us all right now and sending us out into the streets.  We are deeply afraid of what is happening, we are not happy.  We can’t understand.  We are not being understood.  But dear god, we all want to be understood.

“Where do we start?,” I asked my friend this morning.  I’m not so sure that empathy can be taught, but I think we should try.  I would like to think that our collective broken masses would be willing students.  Empathy is a skill but it’s also been likened to a muscle, one that atrophies with disuse and strengthens with practice.

And I know it sounds all puppies and rainbows to say that we can start to heal by just having conversations with those who seem to be and think and exist so differently than we do.  But this violence, though I fully understand that we got here because all other options seemed exhausted, is a frightening place to be.  Maybe next time you think about hitting that delete button on your social media, reach out privately.  This will mean spilling those icky, dark emotions that are lying underneath your anger.  This is saying “This is what this is like for me.  Can you tell me what this is like for you?”

It’s an invitation to the field, and the more people that gather there, the wider it grows to cover the chasms.

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