Friday, July 29, 2011

Empathy

I know that word is an oxymoron coming from me.

However, empathy is the prevailing thought this week as I consider 3 parallel minor meltdowns that occurred within my circle. Fortunately, not all 3 were from oblivious stupidity on my behalf, although I'm quite certain I didn't provide any sort of anesthetic either. Consider me an unintended participant, an accidental tourist perhaps, and in one situation, a deliverer of words that came out quite different than the desired sentiment.

Meltdown #1 occurred over the weekend and while I didn't play a direct role, it likely would have unfolded quite differently without my presence. Empathy here, and in the two other incidents as well, refers to lack of empathy, to not thinking about the impact of certain actions, however innocent or malicious they may have been. Start with a crowded bar, add some alcohol, shake it all up and out comes drama. Obviously not unexpected in any sense of the word. However, in this case, a bit of empathy on the behalf of everyone would have soothed some of the flames. It can be quite difficult in the moment to catch yourself while you are in the middle of a conversation and realize what the impact might be to someone else. I've certainly never been on that plane.

Meltdown #2 occurred during the week and is actually split into an A and a B component, both of which lay squarely on my shoulders. The takeaway has to do with word choice and the impact of certain words and phrases compared to their alternatives. At one point in time I used to think that word choice was the inherent freedom of the speaker or writer. Since then, I've come to realize that conveying thoughts in a manner that the recipient can appreciate, understand, and enjoy, is more important than the objective truth of any individual statement. So, while I despise political spin and while I have utter contempt for bs answers, there is definite merit in carefully constructed prose.

Meltdown #3 is sort of spread out over the last few days. I had a chance to peek inside the window today and see more of what I was worried I might see. The upside to this last bit is realizing that I can relate to all of the perspectives involved, that there isn't any black or white.

Empathy is surprising in its power. By being aware of the impact of our actions on others, we can adjust our words and actions to convey the desired sentiment, not some translated or undesired angle. I find myself particularly poor at this endeavor, and as a result, it has weighed heavily on my mind lately. Perhaps tonight is the beginning of a deeper understanding of the meaning behind the word.

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