If we are living in a so-called Age of Empathy – what does it mean?
What does it mean for an individual, a co-worker, an employer, a neighbor, a city or a world society to live with empathy in the face of such harsh daily realities?
What will we do differently in our personal and social lives? What kind of social and economic policies will we collectively sanction? What kinds of leaders will we insist responsibly govern our institutions? Will we continue to ignore our ravaged planet or remain impervious to global health needs or our local fast-food server’s daily struggle for survival?
For me, these are the most salient questions of the day. The answers (our response) to them will define the future. While we are consumed with the day-to-day demands of our lives – something far greater is deciding what kind of future we’ll all inherit.
In his big, meaty, 2010 book, The Empathic Civilization, author, Wharton Business School economist and former EU (European Union) advisor, Jeremy Rifkin wrote, “Empathy conjures up active engagement — the willingness of an observer to become part of another’s experience, to share the feeling of that experience.”
Rifkin adds an important dimension in his description, “Empathy is not just about feeling for another’s suffering. One can also empathize with another’s joy. Indeed, empathic moments are the most intensely alive experiences we ever have. We empathize with each other’s struggles against death and for life. One acknowledges the whiff of death in another’s frailties and vulnerabilities. No one ever empathizes with a perfect being.”
At the time of the book’s release, Rifkin’s sweeping hypothesis received mixed reviews with many critics noting that the author provided little evidence that empathy in humans can or will result in their ability to address global challenges or crises. You have to wonder, what they think will? Read more…
“Fear does not predict the future: it only tells you that you are afraid. The trick is to recognize the emotion when it emerges, accept it, discover its source and decide what to do with it.” Jay Uhler, Organizational Psychologist
Needless to say, most of the world’s been gripped by fear recently.
This is a natural reaction, especially in light of the complexity of geopolitical and environmental crises that seem uncontrollable. Because a sense of helplessness engenders more fear, it is critical to understand what frightens us – and why. The longer we allow ourselves to stay mired in fear, the more we cloud our perceptions and make choices driven by our anxieties.
The challenges of today’s world call for a serious elevation of our emotional intelligence if we are to respond rationally, cognizant of what we feel, yet not driven by it. More than ever – emotional intelligence feels like an essential survival skill. Read more…
“Make the most of your regrets; never smother your sorrow, but tend and cherish it till it comes to have a separate and integral interest. To regret deeply is to live afresh. Henry David Thoreau
We’re a long way from Walden Pond; even Thoreau’s contemporaries rarely lived such a contemplative life, but let’s take some time now to ponder two inter-connected emotions – guilt and regret.
Complex and deep, distinct in their qualities, both emotions are about loss. Both are akin to sadness as the wise Mr. Thoreau wrote. Both, as all emotions do, rely very much on the cognitive narratives we construct as we live. Guilt and regret belong in the category I call, emotions of comparison and the moral emotions. Much of their life force is derived from our mental comparisons with the lives of others – what should and should not be.
Since the 1960’s gave us the term “guilt trip,” guilt’s never been the same. According to the dictionary it means “when someone tries to make you feel guilty for thinking, feeling and doing things a certain way.” The “social liberators” of the ‘Sixties’ weren’t having any of that post-Depression, post-WWII thinking about personal and social constraints. The straightjacket of guilt was off and guilt in its post-Victorian form hasn’t been seen since.
A hundred years ago Freud created an internal iconography about guilt that had previously only been transmitted through religious doctrine. Freud believed that guilt is an affective state experienced as internal conflict about something one believes is “wrong.” This feeling persists because, as Freud explained, we are in violation of our conscience (our inner moral code) engaged in the epic battle between our ego and our superego. While Freud rejected the role of God in this struggle, the harsh super-egoic stand-in was parental authority, broadly representing the rules and norms of society. Freud strongly believed that one of guilt’s purposes was self-punishment.
Although Freud, a brilliant explorer of the uncharted psyche of the late 1800’s, did not significantly advance his theories on the origins of guilt, recent neuroscience has shown connections between guilt and certain regions of the brain associated with anxiety and depression.
Carl Jung, who Freud once called his “adopted eldest son, crown prince and successor,” (before the rupture in their bond) had a dramatically different concept of the role guilt served in the individuation of the personal psyche.
In a 1945 essay on guilt, Jung wrote,” Guilt has been a subject of special interest to me for many years. I learned that guilt is far more complicated than the conventional explanations for its psychic existence. The conventional view of guilt’s role is that it helps us remain “good.” Guilt keeps us within boundaries deemed acceptable. It helps us resist doing things that would disturb or harm our individual and collective interests.”
Jung’s subversive (at the time) contribution to our understanding of guilt’s purpose was clear; he did not believe we could grow without experiencing guilt.
Jung believed that we needed to be “bad” at times which he called “good guilt.” The “good” in doing “bad” comes from the freedom people experience when they break from oppressive rules that are not intrinsically natural to them. Jung gave the examples of divorces, separations from partners and friends and giving up family (read societal) approved careers or even marriages. Breaking with these conventions would have been far more guilt-producing in Jung’s times, but they still are emotionally costly for many people today. Read more…
Developing more patience has been a long-time personal pursuit. There’s no formula I can recommend. It takes diligence. It takes commitment. It takes attention.
Mostly it takes remembering.
Lately, I noticed I’ve been sliding back into some old habits of impatience. On closer examination, they’re predictable.
I’ve often written about the power of patience because I have experienced that impatience is a form of chaos I bring upon myself.
Sharing this with you, I assume that barring deeper emotional or physical impediments, we all have within us, the nascent ability to be more patient – and consequently, more peaceful. Few of us can get there “naturally.” If we want more of this easiness in our lives, we have to do the heavier mental and emotional lifting that identifies what stands in our way – and what allows more of our calmer nature to emerge.
While habits of thought and behavior activate our impatience, it’s emotional triggers that route our patterns of impatience. Certain emotions are particularly likely to enable impatience.
Here are some of mine: Read more…
“Realize that you are in there. You must first come to realize that you are in there. From deep inside, you are experiencing the world. You are experiencing your physical body, your thoughts and your emotions. You are conscious and you are experiencing what it is like to be human.” Michael Singer
An article in the New Yorker grabbed my attention and lingered with me for days.
In his article, Actually People Still Like to Think, Ferris Jabr describes a study that concluded that given the option, most people would rather voluntarily shock themselves than be left alone with their thoughts.
Jabr goes on to dissect the questionable conclusions the researchers drew and speculates that it’s likely that the subjects (and most of us, I’d say) simply do not like their ‘mental weather.” We are, Jabr suggests, averse to the unpleasant wanderings of our minds and hesitant to spend much time there.
While one of the study’s co-authors, Harvard psychologist Daniel Gilbert, declared that “People prefer electric shock to thinking,” his sweeping generalization deserves some serious unpacking.
As a long-time practitioner of mindfulness meditation, Gilbert’s hyperbolic conclusion doesn’t completely surprise me. It takes a great effort for most people to sit with their own thoughts without distraction. Sure plenty of people seek quiet times – reading, listening to music, cooking, taking walks – but these activities engage the mind and keep it occupied. Read more…
Since I first published this article in 2012, it’s been in the top 5 of my views every day. Clearly – the head vs. heart conflict is very much alive.
There is little disagreement that effective decision-making is one of the most important tasks we have in every part of life.
If we were to take a survey in the average workplace to poll what people believed was most needed for effective decision-making, which of these do you think would top the list?
Limited emotional interference?
If you chose the last item, I’d like you to reconsider. Read more…
“To pay attention, this is our endless and proper work.” ~ Mary Oliver
The Buddhist teacher, Thich Nhat Hahn, captures the essence of paying attention – deep, sustained, perceptive attention – when he reminds us, “You have an appointment with life – you should not miss it.”
Lately I’ve been keenly aware that life today is filled with endless distractions. These distractions, internal and external, are not all of my making. But being a creature of habit – I feel distraction creeping up on me and becoming more and more of my default state.
This concerns me greatly.
Perhaps it’s because when you reach a certain age you finally get that you don’t have all the time in the world to squander. While I am a great advocate for the freedom to occasionally do nothing – I don’t want to waste precious time.
Distractions (what tech writer Linda Stone refers to as “continuous partial attention”) insidious as they are, have become the norm so quickly that it feels like a form of theft.
I watch toddlers so mesmerized by smartphones and tablets that no toy can get their attention. I sit with people for a meal and watch them interrupted constantly by texts and calls. People drive and text and shop and talk and too few people seem aware of those around them.
Psychologist Philip Zimbardo (The Stanford Prison Experiments) reports in a new study that boys spend 44 hours in front of a TV, smart phone or computer screen for every half hour in conversation with their fathers.
Distraction, it seems, is now baked in the cake. Read more…