Fearless Friday: Learned Empathy

This morning I did my best to avoid a particular cashier lane at the grocery store. My local grocery store proactively employs people with differing abilities, whether physical, learning, or social. There is a young woman who bags and likes to have loud, occasionally inappropriate conversations with anyone, anywhere. I am a jerk in the morning. I don’t want to talk to anyone, anywhere. I tried to pass by unseen, but the cashier called out to me. “I can help you here!” I smiled weakly and turned back into the lane.

canstockphoto3618060She yelled down at me from the end of the conveyor: PAPER OR PLASTIC? and I silently handed her my cloth bags, already feeling the irritation grow. WHAT’s YOUR NAME? MINE IS _____. I mumbled something about not being awake yet. NOT AWAKE YET? THAT’S A FUNNY NAME. I could feel my face grow hot as people in the lanes next to us turned to look. I’m simultaneously ashamed of my self-consciousness, lack of compassion, and growing hostility towards this woman, who obviously could not read social cues. Where was my empathy and understanding? I suspect it was in a cup of coffee and a few hours of silence. In the moment, it completely abandoned me. I could hear her yell as I exited the store. BYE NOT AWAKE YET!

I think about empathy a lot and how a true master wouldn’t ration it. Wouldn’t pick and choose who was deserving of engagement based on whether or not I’d had my morning drug of choice. Empathy is a skill that, like any skill, grows with practice. And practice is sometimes uncomfortable and forced and against all our inclinations. Empathy allows us to flip the script. I wouldn’t have been doing her a favor by engaging – she was not the one with the problem. I saw in a flash, that I was both insecure and petty and it made me less empathetic and kind than I like to believe I am. Next time, I have a chance to do better.

I think we all have empathy.

We may not have enough courage to display it.

Maya Angelou

Welcome to Fearless Friday.

Feacanstockphoto13410470rless Fridays are about lives lived in spite of our fears, living a life that is about curiosity, compassion, and courage. If you just got published, something wonderful happened to you, you witnessed an act of kindness or bravery, or you have someone in your life who amazes you, drop your story into my contact page or email it to TheGreenStudy (at) comcast (dot) net and I’ll run it on a Fearless Friday. If you’re a blogger, it’s an opportunity to advertise your blog, but this is open to anyone who would like to share.  These will be 100-300 word stories, subject to editing for clarity and space.

One of the gifts of reading is increasing empathy. Hearing or reading about another person’s experience and perspectives, letting them sink in, without preemptive judgment, is a gift to oneself. This is the wonderful thing about the blogging world – so many worldviews being shared. Opportunities abound for us as readers to expand our world, understanding, and empathy for fellow humans. So today I’m sharing some of the blogs that have expanded my worldview.

Robyn at Blog Woman! Life Uncategorized is a citizen of the Cree and Michif Nations. She is passionate about indigenous peoples issues in Canada. I’ve learned a lot from reading her blog and now, her Twitter feed as well. “What’s Under the Fight to Do Right?” encapsulates why she does what she does.

RJ at RJsCorner describes himself as “an Independent thinking highly functional person who is deaf and has some Aspie traits.” He has himself on a rigorous blogging schedule, with each day covering a different theme and a wide range of subjects. His post “Never Stop Learning” is part of his 10 Pillars of life – not only has he continued to learn, but he is unerringly, a teacher as well.

Randall at Midlife Crisis Crossover blogs about traveling, comics, and movies. Here’s the funny thing – I’m not particularly interested in comics or movies, but I really enjoy reading his blog, which is often a breakdown of exactly those things. But strong writing and his obvious enthusiasm for his subjects are a winning combination. As someone who likes to keep up with things a bit, I especially enjoy his roundup posts like “My 2018 at the Movies, Part 1 of 2: The Year’s Least Best“.

Torey Richards, a Licensed Mental Health Counselor in Florida, writes at LMHC: Sharing Information and Exploring Human Behavior. The blog is a hybrid of clinical information, case information, and the writer’s personal experiences, which makes for interesting reading. Sometimes the posts are about intense, potentially-triggering issues. But blogs like these, about mental health conversation and information, are part of the antidote to the stigma and silence that have plagued our society with regard to mental health issues.

These are just a few of the blogs I follow that have broadened my perspective. Thank you to those bloggers and the many more who open windows to their worlds.

What’s your empathy look like? And where do you go to broaden your world view?

15 Comments on “Fearless Friday: Learned Empathy

  1. No easy answers here, Michelle. We also shop at a store that employs people with some limitations and different abilities. I’ve noticed that with the positions that interact with the public they sometimes have another employee coaching the individual (especially early on)—both on the technical skills of the job and the social skills. The challenge here is whether it’s done in such a way that implies the employee is inadequate or in some way deficient, or if it’s presented as tips one would give any employee to help them be successful in the job and connect positively with customers. We introverts tend to avoid any situation that draws unwanted attention to us, so there’s another polarity to manage related to empathetic interaction and general reticence no matter what the circumstance. Sometimes, thinking in advance how I would like to respond helps me get beyond that tongue-tied avoidance that automatically springs into my head.

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    • I’m so delighted that this store, which is new to our neighborhood, has been so deliberate in its efforts to be fully a part of the community. I assume that they have used coaches to help people train into their positions.

      I have always tended to be very self-conscious and feel uncomfortable about any attention, so part of the empathy I realized I needed to have was towards myself. At least I can understand my reaction. But next time, as part of my practice to be a better grownup, I’m going to choose her lane on purpose.

      Liked by 3 people

      • I like that you said you need to have empathy for yourself. I think that there is a mental and emotional limit that all people have and it is kind to remember that as well. As I know you know, we can’t be all things to all people, and definitely not all the time. I don’t think that you weren’t empathetic. I think many of us are just trying to do our best.

        Great post! Thanks for sharing your thoughts honestly as you always do!

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        • Thanks, Elizabeth. I felt pretty surly, so that usually means my empathy has taken a hike. If I didn’t regularly shop for groceries and avoid this woman’s lane, I might not have thought about it too much. I’d like to imagine that I could do better and will likely have the opportunity to do so. As Donna mentioned above, thinking it through beforehand will be useful.

          Liked by 2 people

  2. Thanks for the shout-out Michelle. I am humbled by your description of me. I love that you called me a teacher, as that it one of the primary things I want my blog to be. I always say that people should be able to learn from all my mistakes in life and not have to repeat them all. (ha). I am just one of those people who can’t turn off their brain, and of course, much of that ends up on RJsCorner. I’m glad I have readers such as you.

    I am currently in the process of bringing up yet another blog. This one will be about my year-long journey in 2019 to be more creative. I have my talents but there are so many areas that I wish I were more artful in. That should be quite a journey!

    “Choosing her lane on purpose”, yeah that is what life should be all about, isn’t it?

    Thanks again,
    RJ at RJsCorner.

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  3. Empathy, like many of our softer capacities, seems to begin at home. I hope you were able to eventually be gentle with yourself over your interaction with the bagger. I find the way I treat myself and the way I treat others to be predictably linked; when I’m feeling negative toward others, it’s usually an indication of some inner bruising that could benefit from a little gentle attention. You’re a good egg, dear.

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    • I recognized that perhaps I should not put myself in situations that are likely to have me coming up short – like interacting with humans before I’m ready to. I’m a morning person only in the fact that I like to be up then, working. But I do not like to talk or be talked to until I’ve gotten myself sorted. Thanks for sharing your perspective, Cate.

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  4. Thanks very much for the kind words, Michelle, When I’m writing about my various interests (or disinterests, for that matter), one of my aims is to make it informative and/or entertaining even for readers who may not know much about the subject at hand. It’s a quality I’ve noted in some of my favorite own writers throughout the years. I’m relieved to know that’s coming through.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Thanks for writing this. What a fascinating topic, both from the interior, and the exterior social interface.

    Having lived longer than I thought I ever would, I find a rare and persistent happiness. Critical thinking seems to have replaced self and other comparisons. I feel calmer and more accepting. Two simple spiritual practices have come to my aid. Smiling and slowing my breath are two of the practices, which help me balance and rebalance.

    Being a higly sensitive person, I tend to avoid stressful social situations. A hearing test revealed a unique medical syndrome. Jumps in volume get magnified in my brain. This is why small increases in loudness make me jump.

    Don’t know if that is why I have always detested crowds and stand apart from people who like to talk loudly.

    I now carry ear plugs and allow myself to avoid loud people and places.

    Also, I make a point to smile and say, “No, thank you. I am fine waiting over here.” My answer to blaring grocery clerks and baggers.

    I admire you for accepting this grocery bagger, and challenging yourself to stand in her line to be kind to her.

    Best, Deborah

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