My values # 2 Empathy

“If her past were your past, her pain your pain, her level of consciousness, your level of consciousness; you would think exactly as she does.
With this realisation comes forgiveness, compassion and peace.”
Eckhart Tolle

Over the years I had written down life values I felt I lived by. Included in my list were tolerance and empathy grouped together as being one and the same. I now see them as different. The dictionary defines these values as:

Tolerance: “A fair, objective and permissive attitude toward those whose opinions, practices, race, religion, nationality etc differ from one’s own.”

Empathy: “The capacity to recognise feelings that are being experienced by another being”

I see tolerance as recognising and allowing someone to be different than you; while empathy as feeling the emotions of another to gain a better understanding of them.

I  had previously considered myself a tolerant person, accepting people regardless of their age, sex, religion, beliefs, culture or nationality. However, in the months after my marriage ended, I found my tolerance to people who did not think in that same manner dropped very low. Moreover I became quite intolerant of people who showed aggravation to others, gossipers, or anyone who displayed an attitude of exclusion. Herein became the paradox of my own tolerance. I was showing tolerance to everyone except those people who were intolerant. I was (by definition) displaying intolerance.

On the other hand, having gone through one of the the most painful periods of my life, my empathy grew. Empathy goes further than tolerance. To be empathetic, you have to get inside the other person’s situation, inside their head, you need to feel their feelings and think their thoughts. In doing so you gain an understanding as to why they think and speak the way they do, why they act the way that behave, why they have their attitude. Instead of writing these ‘intolerant’ people off, I started giving them my attention. I asked questions about their home situation, their background, the week that they had just had, and any grief they had endured. As I had felt my own pain, I found that I could now empathise more with others pain, with their feelings of loss, with loneliness, with abandonment, with grief, with being wronged. I was now more able to understand them and their humanity.

When you empathise with a person, you do not have to accept their actions, you do not have to agree with their point of view, you do not have to agree with their conclusions or their choices; and most importantly, you do not have to abdicate your own needs or your own values. However, by displaying empathy for that person you gain a greater understanding as to why the person behaves or thinks the way they do or did. Once you gain that understanding, you gain tolerance of them as people; yet you may still stand firm on not tolerating or accepting any adverse behaviour they may display.

What about tolerance and empathy towards someone who has mistreated me?
What about my attitude to my husband leaving me without warning or discussion?

I have over the months reflected on what he must have been feeling at the time, what his state of mind must have been, what anguish he must have gone through, to have put his own perceived needs ahead of me, our relationship, our family and his previously held values. True empathy allows me to grasp all his feelings, even the negative feelings. True empathy gives me the understanding that it was never ever about me and was always about him. True empathy allows me to regain tolerance to others, and to once again tolerate him as a person, as a person who is different than me. True empathy, given time, may translate into compassion and may be a key to my transformation.

I resolve that empathy, with its tag-along of tolerance, are two values I will live by.

We pass on the  values of empathy and kindness to our children by living them. We need to show our kids that you’re strong not by putting other people down – you’re strong by lifting them up. That’s our responsibility. Barack Obama

My values # 1 Trust

Trust

In an earlier post I explored my basic life needs. At the time, I was in complete crisis due to my husband leaving our marriage. I had lost companionship, dreams for the future, family order, stability, self-esteem, emotional and financial security. I had been thrown into a world of chaos. It helped to nurture my basic needs and I spent some months focussing on my home, health, diet and cocooning myself in a familiar safe routine. Gradually I started to heal and come out of my deep pain. I felt I had worked through the issues of our separation and I started focussing on my higher level needs of self-esteem and self-fulfillment.

But there was something holding me back and stopping my progress, something missing, something niggling at me. It was as if one of my basic needs was not being met or there was something I had still not worked through. Then it came to me.

It was trust. I had lost trust.

When you have trust none of the other things in life matter. It comes first and foremost before food, before shelter, before good health and well-being. If you have trust it wraps around you like a warm blanket and protects you at night. It goes with you inside you throughout your day and makes you glow with love and gratitude. Trust makes you see sunshine when the rain comes and the cold winds blow. Trust makes you feel strong so you can conquer your fears. It allows you to speak and stand up for yourself. Trust gives you the confidence to do the right thing and to be true to yourself. Trust is your security, your inner core of happiness and your stability that you take with you wherever you go.

In our marriage we had trust. It was one value we both shared with pride. It was unspoken trust. When you own deep trust, there is no need to speak the words, there is no need to make the affirmation, because it is just there.

In that very first instant of my husband telling me he was leaving me it was the shattered trust that pierced my heart and caused me my greatest pain. A pain so deep that pushing it into my deep sub-conscious was the only way I could survive. That is where I had pushed it on the very first hour of the very first day on my own and there it had remained.

I can find companionship. I can regroup our broken family unit. I can take on board my depleted asset base and begin building my finances. All this is possible in time. What can I do without trust? How can I survive without trust? I need trust. I need to be able to trust.

This is where I have come to the conclusion that focussing on our ‘needs’ first is upside down. Underpinning our needs are our values. It is our values that are at the core of our being. Our values are who we are deep down inside us. Our values give us the blue print for how to live our lives. Our values underpin what we give.

Yes, trust is a ‘need’, something we take. Trust is also a ‘value’, something we give.

Deep down inside me I know that at the core of my being there is still trust, my own inbuilt trust imbedded as a value as the essence of my soul. This trust has not been broken or lost, the value of trust that I live by.

This is where my real healing begins, returning to my own core beliefs and values, and living by them every day. My # 1 value is trust.  I believe that if I live by trust, if I give trust, if I continue to live my own life in a trustworthy fashion; if I trust myself; then I know that in time trust as a ‘need’ will be returned to me. I resolve today that I will hold onto trust as one of my core values.

“As soon as you trust yourself, you will know how to live.”
Johann Wolfgang von Goethe

 

I am ……. as old as I am

I had a cousin who was killed in a car accident on his 21st birthday. He never graduated, never married, never travelled, never had children…….

I had an aunt who died from cancer at age 33 years old. She never had children, never owned her own business, never moved interstate, never wrote a book……

My father died of a stroke at age 49. He never saw his children graduate or marry, he never knew any of his grand-children, he never retired.

From where I am sitting there is still much that I have to face in my life that is difficult ……. being cast aside…….. being alone…. losing my plans for the future …….. having a depleted asset base from which to begin again………

However, being aged 58 years is not added to this list. It is just the age that I am.

Yes, it is difficult coping with the feelings of betrayal at age 58 … but this would be difficult, the hurt would be the same, no matter what the age.

Yes, it is difficult to suddenly be left alone at age 58 …. but no more difficult than a young mother left alone with young children. No more than a child being left by an abandoning parent.

Yes, it is difficult starting afresh with a depleted asset base at age 58 ……. but no more difficult than people who lost money in investment scams… no more than others who have lost money in failed businesses… no more than people who have needed to use their assets to fund a medical condition.

All of these issues are difficult situations for anyone at any age. The truth is that in order to overcome them, they need facing, they need dealing with. Thinking they are more difficult because you are a certain age is just an excuse to put off facing what needs to be faced.

My age has nothing to do with the difficulties that I now face. My age actually benefits me as I have a grounded experience in previous hard times that I have survived. So I know that once difficulties are faced, they cease becoming difficulties and turn into challenges. Challenges are invigorating and give you a reason to get up in the morning. Being the age that I am, I am better able to apply my past experiences to the challenging times ahead. Rather than facing difficulties I now have challenging goals …. embracing aloneness……becoming financially independent ……. of staying true to my values.

Whenever I start to think things are difficult ‘at my age’ …. I stop.
I remember to be grateful for the age that I am.
I remember to be grateful to have come as far as I have come.
I remember those loved ones who did not get this far in their own journey.
I remember to be grateful for the opportunity to continue my own journey into the future.

I am an (empowered) introvert

“You will find her outside sitting on a large rock looking out over the water or inside looking out the window with a pensive appearance….. Yes, I like this person very much. She is me.”   ‘Donna’ from “Introvert Power” by Laurie Helgoe

It is not news that I am an introvert. What is a revelation, what is empowering, is that for the first time in my entire life I am totally comfortable being that introverted person, happy with how I feel, and glad that I am now able to live the way that is right for me.

Society tells us that to be successful and happy is to be daring, adventurous, decisive and sociable. To be ‘sociable’ you need to belong to some sort of group of friends, family, community, or work group. To be accepted within that group you need to interact with the group as a group, be prepared to speak up, and enjoy engaging in large social gatherings or attending ‘parties’.  Organizations encourage teamwork and networking. Schools encourage children to participate in teams. Parents urge them to socialize. Social-media platforms enhance this concept.

This is the world of the extrovert. Extroverts are people who obtain gratification from outside themselves and are energized by human interactions, large social gatherings and parties. Coming from the loudest voice – the extrovert voice – it is often taken as being the normal way to think, live, act. In reality it is simply the best way to think, live, and act for half the population. This is not the way for the other half of the population – my half.

Some 50% of us are introverts. Introverts are more reserved, less outspoken in groups and take pleasure in solitary pastimes. They become energized through reflection and feel overwhelmed by too much stimulation and time spent with large groups of people.

Some of the people who have been closest to me have been extroverts; my sister, my two childhood friends, my best friend as an adult, and my husband. Extroverts and I have been drawn to each other. They talk. I listen. They react with emotional highs and lows to the ups downs of life. I smile and carry on. They pursue exciting pastimes and draw me in. I radiate calmness and pass it on.

In my commitment to our marriage it was easier for me to understand my extrovert husband’s need for constant stimulation and requirement to socialise than for him to understand my need for being alone. This is because he talked. I listened. I understood. I adapted to his world. I lived and shared with him the exciting world of fast-paced activities and constant socialising. When at the end of a busy week, I did not want to go ‘out’, I thought there was someone wrong with me. When I did go out and exhaustion overcame me, I battled on. In time, I forgot, and did not understand my own needs.  I lost myself without even knowing that I had.

When I have felt overwhelmed since our separation, some of my closest people have made suggestions to me of what I should do in order for me to thrive again – engaging in some exciting activity, travelling and being surrounded by people. I have slowly discovered that what is actually best for me is exactly the opposite – I require quietness, no stimulation, and time to myself for reflecting. Slowly I am discovering me.

I am not shy, anti-social or depressed. I am simply an introvert. I enjoy time to myself. I enjoy solitude. I have a preference for surroundings that are not over-stimulating.  I work best alone on focused projects. I do not like loud noise or a lot of confusing activities. I like time to think before making considered well-planned decisions, before taking action. I like time to think before I speak. I prefer to relax or ‘wind-down’ after a day’s work by reading or writing or going for a walk rather than going ‘out’. I prefer holidays doing quiet activities rather than engaging in frenetic pastimes.  When I do engage, I enjoy myself but I need to recharge afterwards by having quiet time. I like to engage one-on-one with people and share ideas on topics that interest me, rather than small-talk with many people at the same time. I listen well and I empathize well with another person’s position. I prefer small social activities with one or two close people rather than large social functions. I enjoy best weekends with no commitments so I have plenty of time to think, write, reflect, plan.

I have much left to contribute to this world in my quiet, slow, methodical fashion. I am not enticed by being the centre of attention, a desire for accolades or wealth. I am dedicated to a larger goal of finding a purpose to my life.

I inhale great draughts of space,
The east and the west are mine, and the north and the south are mine.
I am larger, better than I thought,
I did not know I held so much goodness.”

from Part 5 ‘Song Of The Open Road’ by Walt Whitman.