Response-Ability – How we make ourselves victims without realizing it

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You create your world. Why not own it?

RESPONSE-ABILITY

One of the trends I find alarming in our current culture is the reluctance of people to take responsibility or to respond with care to each other. I hear a lot of self-justification, mind-reading, defensiveness, blaming and complaining; which is why relationships, friendships, business connections and day-to-day living are not going well for a lot of people. Their lives are not about trying to understand their own role in the problem so they can deal with it effectively, but to push the responsibility off onto someone or something else, and avoid it. 

The problem with this kind of thinking is that each of us gets the results of what we do or don’t do, whether we try to blame someone else, ignore the problem or run away from it. No matter what, sooner or later, the problem lands right back in our laps, usually made worse by the avoidance. Often, in an attempt to avoid responsibility, we try to control someone else and make the problem theirs. 

Who’s in control; and whose problem is it?

Most of us feel more comfortable being in control of the situations we’re in, so much so, that we often pretend we’re in control when we’re really not, or try to control situations that we cannot reasonably handle. 

Remember, you are never in control of another person, even if it seems that you are and that they wish you to be. You can’t control who you’ll meet, when or where you’ll meet them, how anyone else will feel, or what they’ll do.

Self-control is the only real control you have. However, it is all the control you’ll need. By taking responsibility for your own actions, words, and reactions, you can greatly stack the odds in your own favor. I think of responsibility as response-ability: the ability to respond to life, people and events. While you may not be responsible for most of what happens, you are completely responsible for your reaction to what is happening. For example, if you are out with a new person and that person acts in some rude, uncaring or unacceptable manner, you have the ability to respond in many ways.

But if we don’t like something, the knee-jerk reflex in our society is to blame something or someone else. “My life is ruined because my parents weren’t attentive.” “I’m not doing well at work because my boss is a jerk.” Rather than taking responsibility, we position ourselves as victims, the effects of someone or something else. In so doing, we’ve set ourselves up as powerless.

Whenever you’re in a difficult situation, you can react irresponsibly, getting defensive, angry or running away. Many people do this without thinking, and it makes the situation worse. The response-able person will consider his or her options. Think about what your responsibility is in this situation, and take charge of your words and actions. If you respond thoughtfully and with integrity and honor, most other people will calm down and interact with you on that higher level. Being response-able means using all your self-control, skill and knowledge to take care of yourself, even when it’s difficult.

“Although you may not always be able to avoid difficult situations, you can modify the extent to which you can suffer by how you choose to respond to the situation.”
― Dalai Lama XIVThe Art of Happiness

The Rewards Of Not Taking Responsibility

We live in a society that actually rewards not being responsible in some contexts more than being responsible. When you are rewarded for being irresponsible, you perpetuate it. “Who do we blame? “How can we get some money from them?” And, “How do I make sure I maintain that state of being not-responsible?” “Because if I become responsible for my life, I will lose all the benefits of being at effect.”  A life lived in fulfillment and joy is a life lived by being at cause.

For example, someone may stay in an abusive relationship feeling victimized because she/he gets sympathy from friends because of it, or maybe even an invitation to be on Dr. Phil! This is what’s called secondary gain. Psychology talks about secondary gain a lot these days because people receive benefit from having a problem that outweighs getting rid of the problem. So they’re better off keeping their problems, and it’s easier to keep your problems if you don’t claim any responsibility for them. A life lived in fulfillment and joy is a life lived by being at cause.

The Benefits Of Response-Ability

If you’re over 21, you’re an adult—like it or not. That means you are responsible for everything you say and do, and you are in charge of yourself and your life. Love is one of the areas of life where many of us have trouble remembering that we are adults, with responsibility.

Realize that you are the creator of your experiences.  And if you want a different result, you are the one who can – and must – cause it to be different.

For many people, this is a radical way to see the world and their lives. On the one hand, it’s a great freedom to know that you really are in control, that you really are the cause – not the victim – of events in your life.  At the same time, it can feel like a lot of responsibility. For some people, overwhelming and confusing: “How could I have possibly caused that?!?”

Often, people react to the idea of responsibility as they would to the words “fault” or “blame”; as though saying “you’re responsible for your life” means “you should feel guilty about your life.” This sense of responsibility is childlike. It reacts and responds as though an angry parent were standing over you saying “Who’s responsible for this mess?”.

Adult responsibility is something else altogether. It is really response-ability; that is, the ability to respond to life. Rather than placing blame, this way of thinking acknowledges personal power. Response-ability is the capacity to choose. Out of many possible responses, I can always choose the one I make. Response-ability is remembering to be in charge and make careful, thought-out choices.

What seems hard at first for most people is understanding the need to take this kind of responsibility. The expression “taking responsibility” is ironically misleading, because actually, we have no choice. We are always responding to situations, even if our response is to do nothing. It does little good to worry about what other people are choosing because you really haven’t any say about it. Your responsibility is to take care of yourself; no one else can do that for you. 

When you respond with the best of your ability, and accept and handle whatever consequences you have helped to create, you not only benefit from your choices, but your life and relationships will improve immensely.

Empowerment – How no one can give it to you.

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Scarlett Johansson’s speech at the recent Women’s March was earmarked in every single media lead as a “smackdown of James Franko,” but her speech contained a message far more important than pointing at hypocrisy.

In the media, it, like so many women’s voices, went unheard.

She revealed a key insight into women’s empowerment (and indeed anyone’s empowerment) as she was, “Digging deep to understand where we are and how we got here.”

The word Empowerment is defined as “Being in control of your behavior.  The process of becoming stronger and more confident, especially in controlling one’s life and claiming one’s rights.”

Johansson said that she, “…sometimes compromised what felt right to me…compromising my voice and therefore allowing myself to be unseen and degraded…it allowed me to have the approval that women are conditioned to need.”

Compromising your truth for approval that you are conditioned to need cuts to the heart of what becoming empowered means.

In general, if we carefully examine any given situation in a very unbiased and honest way, we will realize that to a large extent we are also responsible for the unfolding of events.” 
― Dalai Lama XIV, The Art of Happiness

As I grew up I was told that becoming a man means owning your truth, walking your path regardless of cost, and at the expense of the approval of others.  It certainly didn’t mean taking advantage of those less powerful, but not every man got that memo.  There were other social narratives at play that were a lot easier to follow.

Johansson realized she felt a “rage on behalf of herself.”  Over time, I have slowly come to realize that when my own boundaries are ignored, the rage I feel is of two parts; the lesser part for the imposed injustice, and the greater part for myself at failing to protect those boundaries.  It is not an easy admission.  The unempowered feel a dichotomy of rage, rage toward those who were willing to take their power merely because they could, and the rage at themselves for failing to define and defend their own boundaries and truth.

Realizing and owning the latter is the difficult part, and the most important.  For women to confine their rage only to “those terrible men who did this to me,” is the very thing that will keep them, victims.

Without a realization by the unempowered, that a full part of their rage, though projected outwards, is truly reflected upon themselves, there can be no personal change such that will end their victimization.

Scarlett Johansson reveals each side of this dichotomy:

“How is it okay for someone in a position of power to use that power to take advantage of someone in a lesser position just because you can.  Is that ever okay?”

No.

and,

“I have made a promise to myself to be responsible to my self, that in order to trust my instincts I must first respect them.”

Yes.

Taking this responsibility means being willing to give up the approval we are conditioned to need.

Compromising your truth in a bid for approval and respect will never gain you genuine approval or true respect.  As you choose to own your truth, be ready to give up the approval and respect of some others.

“No more pandering,” Johansson concluded. “No more feeling guilty about hurting someone’s feelings when something doesn’t feel right for me.”

This path is not easy, but it is part of becoming an empowered woman or man.  Ultimately, there are no excuses and no blame that will bear fruit.  No one is going to hand you your empowerment.  This is what we must teach the next generation of men and women.  It is only when we learn to value our own self-worth and voice our rights, that the social narrative will turn and engender compassion and respect for those with less power.

The good news is, that the approval and respect that you do receive by owning your truth, using your voice, and being responsible to yourself, will be both genuine and true.  And it will be worth it.

Labels are important.  The #MeToo tag means “I too have been a victimized.”  I would like to think that it also means “This is about me too.”

The #Time’sUp tag seems closer to the mark.  “Your time of taking advantage of the less powerful is up.”  I’d also like to think that it means, “We are putting you on notice that we have decided to own our truth.”

 

The Drowning Woman: A Rescuer’s Story

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THE RESCUER
There are times, few and shining when life’s struggles are overcome, and all at once happiness has no alternative but to grow.
Once, a long time ago, but not so far off as you would think, there was a young lad and a fine Spring day.  His bright outlook and innate wisdom, gifts more of nature than of experience, had brought him to just such a time.
In the earliest part of the afternoon, he followed a woodland path through the bristling August countryside, under a great blue sky, that led to a pretty little glade on the far side of a brook.  It was a bright place, peaceful, safe and alive, and he knew he belonged there.
He walked along thinking about his foregone troubles, and how he had dodged them or tricked them into disappearing. He was a happy lad, perhaps happiest when he was alone with nature as he was on this day.
Just as he began to think how little of his joy he shared with others, he came upon the brook that was deep and wide like a pond at one point and so clear that it returned a beautiful blue to the open sky. Spanning the width, and very low to the slow-moving water, was an old wooden bridge, the kind they used to carry livestock and farm folk to and from the town. As the young man approached the pond he heard a dreadful moaning and thrashing of water. It sounded as if some animal had been trapped in the mud and was desperately trying to free itself.
He stepped onto the bridge and could see that it wasn’t an animal at all but a girl; she was quite beautiful by the look of it, although it was hard to tell for she appeared to be drowning.  Her face was set, cold and hard. Her brow was furrowed almost to the point of being grotesque, but her features were fair and childlike.  Her slender arms and shoulders were visible only now and then as her clenched fists pounded and thrashed the water in a desperate attempt to keep her head above it. Her garments dragged her down in a spot where cut flowers lay strewn; she was like a vision of Ophelia waked from her deadly reverie.  The ferocity of her flailing was truly frightening.  It was a mortal battle, an ugly dance of death.
The young man leaned his elbows on the railing of the bridge and lazily crossed his feet. He called out to her, “I’ve seen people drowned before, you know.” He saw himself in his mind leaping headfirst into the water at first sight of the troubled young maiden to rescue her the way any gallant would. He shifted his weight and crossed the other foot. You see, he had indeed seen people drown before, and by experience learned the danger in attempting a rescue.
The beautiful girl gasped and choked and made pitiful gurgling noises in her throat as she twisted and splashed under the warm summer sky. He spoke to her again, “If you were going to jump in you might at least have learned to swim first,” no reply. It was a terribly cruel thing to say to someone in mortal peril. “It takes a dreadfully long time to drown you know, it’s a very messy business,” he added.  He could afford to be flippant, he didn’t plan on rescuing her. He intended only to walk on by and tend to his own business, no doubt the same way everyone else had that day.
Besides, he held the belief that anyone in trouble wanted it that way, for why else with they have it in the first place. He knew for himself that all the trouble in his life he brought upon himself, and all his problems solved were solved alone. Still, he didn’t really want to see her drown. He almost regretted not trying to save her, as he turned to go. She was so beautiful and so helpless, like a monarch butterfly caught in a web. He loved Monarch butterflies.
Just then, she caught his eye. Her eyes were a cold gray-blue, but her glance was warm like sunset, highlights touched the black of her pupils and made two stars in the night sky, distant and clear. He remembered her then; having never seen her before, even so, he remembered.  Two children sitting by the still waters dreaming each their own dreams, yet dreaming together.  His gaze softened and warmed her a little. Everything was still as they watched each other, everything but the rhythmic sound of her thrashing.
The young lad inhaled sharply and looked skyward. He let out a long sigh then said aloud to himself, “How silly of me to think I was done with trouble.”  He turned and raised his voice so that she would hear him over the thrashing. “Don’t get the idea that this is as easy as it seems. Rescuing is dangerous, and it just might kill us both.”  He spoke again to himself, “I must be a fool for trying this again. She’ll only drown, I know it.”  But inside he had already decided that this one wasn’t going to drown.
He dove in and glided effortlessly across the pond to where the girl was. As he reached her, a cold fist smashed across his face, a rake of nails tore across his cheek as he was pulled by the hair down beneath the foaming water. He tried to grab her waist from the back and force his way to the surface but a knee planted itself firmly in his chest and the wind was driven from his lungs. He tried again to surface but was scratched and bruised until he was finally kicked to the bottom of the pond. Feeling dizzy and out of breath, he tried to swim away from the frenzied legs that pummeled him into the stream bed pinning him to the muddy bottom.
The young lad knew just what to do to save himself, he pulled his legs in tight to his chest, planted two feet firmly on the bottom of the pond, and pushed as hard as he could. He came up with a great gasp into the sunlight. As he fell back into the water, he realized that he was standing in water that barely reached his chest. The water level where the girl was thrashing was well below her shoulders!
The young man walked over to the girl and stopped just outside her reach. “What are you doing?!” he said, “Stand up, the water isn’t even deep enough to drown you!”
“I can’t!” she said.
“Why not!” he said, annoyed, rinsing the muck from his face and clothes.
“I’m… afraid!  she said between gulps of water.
“You see me standing, don’t you?”
“Yes.”
“Well then, stand up. The water isn’t deep enough to drown you. It’s not over your head, it never was.  JUST STAND UP!  All you have to do is plant your feet and stand.  Come out of this cold water, and we’ll find a nice grassy hill and dry out in the sun.”
“I can’t.” said the girl.
“Try it.” he said.
“I can’t, I’m too afraid!
The young man struck his palm against his forehead. He shook his head and slowly trudged back to shore.
“Please help me!” she said, and as he walked he thought he wasn’t quite sure what she meant by help.
The poor confused fellow consoled himself while drawing himself out of the water by pointing out the fact that drowning people are not the most rational kind of person one might meet. Besides, it was clear to him now that this was not the proper technique for rescuing, despite the popular traditions. He shook off some of the water, wiped the blood from his cheek and limped back along the bridge. There was no question of giving up. What he started, he had to finish.
He sat himself down, dangling his feet over the edge of the little wooden bridge, watching her struggle. He watched silently for a long time, trying to remember her, watching her every expression. After a long while, he said, “What made you decide to drown?”
“Because my mother drowned,” she replied.
He wasn’t really expecting an answer to the question. He leaned toward her, and his voice grew very soft and warm.
“That’s really very sad, but it doesn’t mean that you have to as well.” he said.
He thought of how good it feels to speak from the heart, to speak from the house of kindness and not out of defense. He truly cared for this girl, for her own sake, and it made the best in him show.
“Don’t be so smug, and stop patronizing me; shut up and help me, please!”
The young man’s face turned sullen, the wound on his cheek began to bleed again. There was a long pause. Finally, she spoke,
“You don’t understand, she was my mother; I loved her.  They came, they did terrible things to her, unspeakable things, and she drowned!  Now I drown.”
Her head submerged completely for a moment before she resurfaced and resumed her pounding.
“You don’t know what it’s like to carry this!  My fear is SO heavy!  I am so sorry!
“It isn’t your fault; it was your choice.” he said.
“You will walk by like everyone else!”
“I am not everyone else.” He was beginning to take this exchange quite personally.
“Do you know how it feels to drown?” she said.
His look was midway between love and contempt as he spoke, “Do you know how it feels to hold out the key to someone’s prison and watch them turn away?”
She…drowned.”  She said it slowly and looked right at him so that he could see deep inside her. He didn’t need to ask if she had once tried to rescue her, it was understood. Both of them knew how hard rescues were, and how they never seem to work.
The sun was high in the sky now. The young man laid across the hot planks of the bridge and began to dry in the sun. The light, he thought to himself, from that great fountain filters down to touch every living thing. He was staring at the light pouring through the tops of the great Oaks and Maples that lined either side of the brook. The sky was a deep blue. Tufts of clouds rolled by. Across the bridge to the west was his meadow. The path sloped upward through stands of bramble and flowers, and beyond it, grassy drumlins rose that shimmered with a hint of silver. Clover, he thought.  A place bettered only in the sharing of it, he mused.
He drew a deep breath as if to drink in the sunlight. He smelled the moist earth and moss that surrounded the pond. The scent was pleasant but cool and thick. He took another breath as a warm breeze blew from the meadow, setting the leaves in motion. Its scent was of sunbaked grasses and wildflowers, the smell of summer memories; friends on the porch, sandals and swings. His mind drifted and wandered through Augusts of long ago.
A drop of cold water touched his lips and brought him back. He turned his head to watch the beautiful drowning maid. Her face was red as she snorted and spit. Her head was sinking lower in the water now, her leaden arms rhythmically pounding the surface, vaulting long splashes into the air. He turned his face back into the sun, took another breath and let out a sigh, then shot up fast,
“Damn you!” he said as he rose to his feet. “Inhale and lean back or by God, I’ll drown you myself!” This she did, and gradually the pounding subsided for the most part. She was now able to keep her nose and mouth consistently above water.

—————-

I wrote this story when I was twenty-three years old.

I never wrote the ending.  (I didn’t know how.)

I found it recently in an old journal.  Notes scribbled in the margins suggested several endings.  Neither involved the maid being “rescued” by the young lad, owing to the author believing, then as now, that it isn’t possible.  The main theme of this little tale is that we are the progenitors of our own misery, and our own sole source of rescue.  Help from others comes only in the form of support and illumination—the key for the lock, the latch for the window.  We ourselves crawl through the chinks and cross the thresholds. Do we really choose to create all the terrible things that we experience, even the ones that other people do to us?  Yes.  Not with our conscious mind certainly, that would be ridiculous.  But in the great ocean of our unconscious, that sea granted us by some unknown hand, we are the writers of the story that when told will lead us to preserve the learnings we seek.  This is the great and perilous Truth that once embraced, frees us utterly.  The boy never asked the maid how she got there or why she was drowning, he asked, “When did you decide to drown?”

ophelia-3.jpgIn one ending, she finally gives up her struggle, goes completely still and sinks to the very bottom, then she just stands up and walks out of the water.

The other takes place after several more bruising attempts at rescue and sees the battered lad walking away alone across the bridge to his beautiful sun-lit meadow, the sound of fists thumping the water slowly receding behind him.

It’s worth noting that the characters in this allegory can be seen as separate individuals (pick the one that applies to you), but also can be regarded as two warring aspects of our own psyche.

How would you end it, my friends?  My experience in life has been much like the latter ending.  What have I learned in the thirty-five years since my “young lad self” wrote it?  This:

“If you choose to help others, choose only the ones who are swimming toward you.”   

If not, you’ll find yourself buried in someone else’s darkness, and this serves no one.  In love, there are takers and there are givers.  If you are one who has built your house among takers, know that you deserve a giver.

It isn’t your fault; it was your choice.

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ADDENDUM TO: “The Drowning Woman: A Rescuer’s Story”

The more I re-read this piece the more fascinating it is to me.  It is so weird looking into my head 35 years ago, and the stunning thing is that so much of what I thought was a growth in awareness over the years was already there, it was just unproven.  (I have stood on that bridge since, more times than I would like to admit, and have also spent some time in the water.)

There is actually more to the unfinished story buried in the notes.  The two may have actually known each other, through letters only, and betrothed having never met.  And it offers some very timely insights into how we know each other through words conveying how we want to be perceived as opposed to the visceral connection of being present with each other.

The notion that we must take responsibility (response-ability) for our lives and embrace the belief that we choose or are “at cause” with all the events of our lives (somehow), is the very thing that gives us our personal POWER and allows us to create the outcomes we desire and frees us from a self-imposed and unjust victimhood (drowning).  Cool stuff!  Smart lad!

If you are curious, and you can read my ancient chicken scratch, have at!  The first and last pages containing notations are pictured here.

So I further the question, “How would you end it?”

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PROTEST: Millennials find their purpose and define an era

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Strange how our values become galvanized when threatened.

So, we’ve somehow managed to elect the poster child of hapless, self-serving, demagoguery who has relit the old fire sticks of hatred, intolerance, and isolationism (as if they ever really went out).

So, we take to the streets and we protest.

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The Flower Power movement was birthed in Berkeley, California in the late 1960’s as means of symbolic protest against the Vietnam War. Beatnik writer Allen Ginsberg, promoted the use of “masses of flowers” to hand to policemen, press, politicians and spectators to civilly fight violence with peace.

Today reminds me SO MUCH of the nineteen sixties.  I remember the images of race riots, bloodied faces, nightsticks, state funerals of fallen leaders, Buddhist monks lighting themselves on fire.  Death by gun violence then was two points higher per 100,000 than it is today.  I was a few years too young (to my eternal gratitude), but the nation’s young were being forced from their homes, shoveled into boot camps and used as cannon fodder to fight an unjust war.

So, they took to the streets.

In 1967 they protested against violence and the war in Vietnam.

In 2017 they will protest against hatred and intolerance.

Flower 7.jpgWhen we were kids, whining was not tolerated in my family.  If my siblings or I cried too much about something that made us unhappy, we would hear that infamous question, “You want something to cry about? I’ll GIVE you something to cry about!” which was followed by a few swift smacks.  It was meant to force us to consider whining as a poor strategy, but it always made me think, “Great, now I have TWO things to cry about!”  Whining, you see, is complaint without action, and my parents couldn’t stand it.

The often-maligned Millennial, accused of laziness and whining, a generation coddled then forgotten, suddenly feels that sharp slap and the taste of iron in their mouths.

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Photograph by Jay L. Clendenin / LA Times 

Now it’s different, now it’s personal.  A once lost generation has found its purpose.

For someone like me, it is so deeply painful to watch innocence come of age in an ugly world, but it is equally inspiring.  What will they forge in their crucible?  What outcomes will they gain–for all of us.

Of all the images my young mind retained in that era, the most powerful and transformative one was the image of a flower stuck down the barrel of a gun.  It takes some balls to face down an adrenalin-bathed military guard with a bayonetted rifle pointed at your head and approach with nothing but a flower.  The symbology was perfect, “Make Love not War”, and the insight extraordinary in its time–You can’t fight violence with violence.  The message of Love did an end run around the mind of violence and spoke directly to the heart of peace.

flower 2 (1).jpgThe protests mattered, and we eventually won.

I’ve been stricken lately with how much the protesters today against ‘he who must not be named’ look like the protestors from 50 years ago.  They are just as brave, just as determined, and just as full of purpose.  There is a laser focus to their intention that reveals a beauty in them that has lain dormant until now.  Adversity reveals true mettle.

I hope they continue to know that you can’t fight hate with hate.

And we’re going to need more flowers.

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Why This Syrian Boy Resonated So Deeply for Me

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I woke up this morning with the image of little Omran Daqneesh in my head and it finally dawned on me why he looked so familiar to me.

THAT is my inner child.

Seriously, no joke–that is what he looks like right now. I’ve spent three years in a kind of slow free-fall of stress, private anguish, trauma, and loss that my skill could not diminish no matter what I tried. Sometimes all we can do is persevere.

If by “inner child” we mean a personification of that source within our core that is pure, joyful, innocent, trusting, playful, and loving, then we should be able to picture it, recognize it.

This morning I have, and THAT’S HIM.

As that image resonates with what I see in myself, it is heartening to know just how durable the little fellow is. As I begin to crawl out from under the rubble of things I needed like a hole in my head, the proof is there, of the ineffable, indelible innocence and goodness that is the origin and seat of who we are.

Persevere, my friends. Whether it be by fire, flood, war, or personal strife, sooner or later, someone will walk by that pile of rubble you are buried under, and pull you back into the daylight.

 

(5-year-old Omran Daqneesh suffered head wounds but no brain injury. Workers feared internal injuries, but an X-ray and ultrasound revealed his wounds were superficial. Omran’s three siblings, ages 1, 6, and 11, and his mother and father were also rescued from the building. None sustained major injuries. The Russian military said Thursday it was ready to back a U.N. call for weekly cease-fires for the city of Aleppo. …curious, what opened eyes can lead to.)

 

Change the World: It’s easier than you think

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The world is a dangerous place.  Life is unfair.  People are cruel.

We must all unite together, stand up and demand change!  Politics, the global stage, war, business, arts, society, economy, all are rife with cruelty, abuse, and inequity.

These things have existed since the dawn of civilization, and it is time that they STOP!  Join with me and we will make the world the place it is meant to be; safe, secure, prosperous, equal, joyful, and compassionate, once and for all.

In an uncertain world, there is one thing for which we can be virtually certain.

We will not succeed in this.

We can look back upon ten thousand years of human evolution, seeing where we have come from and compare it to where we have come to and know that the world has not changed at all.

It is essentially the same as it has always been.

Despair?  Maybe not.

Let’s reframe.  Let us take the evidence at face value and concede that perhaps the world is not SUPPOSED to change.  This is a high-altitude view, so get your wings on.

PERHAPS, struggle is the nature of the human experience.  Struggle is why we are here.  Struggle is our gift.  The innocent mind will discover the cruelty of the world, rightly conclude that it is wrong, and falsely assume that it is the world that must change.

Maybe, just maybe, in the heart of our hearts, the home of our homes, the self of ourselves, our mission and destiny are only to find our course through this world of marvels and maliciousness, danger and wonder.  What if we are here only to learn for ourselves to make the right choices, turn the correct turns, find our own small, safe, and sacred beauty in this world.

Does that sound too selfish?  Too easy?  Instead of only being satisfied with a changed world, can we be satisfied with just our changed self?  It’s easier to blame the world than to task ourselves.

The truth may be that we do not own the world and that we may have absolutely no right to it.  We may only own and have the right to our individual path THROUGH it.  Within the part of my path that touches yours resides my experience of the world.  I don’t need to change the entire world, I just need to make your’s and my experience of it better.

We all can make ourselves mad with anger and despair by living with the mindset that nothing is right until the whole world changes.  We can split our guilty consciousness with a thousand worthy causes, ten thousand, and ten times that.  We can maim our spirits and throw away all belief in the goodness of life by refusing to accept that the world is the way it should be.

What if the world were not the insurmountable “task” we imagine it to be, but a “garden”; a garden of love and fear that we get to pick our path through.

Instead of insisting that the world change for us, that every wrong should be righted, every problem solved; let’s instead, from this high-height, understand that the context of the world will never change.  Light the path in front of you, and avoid the darkness.

What would the world be like, I wonder, if we all chose ONE CAUSE that resonated deeply for us, aligned with our own personal destiny, and strove for that one achievable goal, being at peace with the rest; knowing that the rest is for others to choose.

I would rather help one person utterly, than a thousand imperceptibly, and let the collateral goodness fall where it may.    

But I guess that’s my path.

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What the World Needs Now: 9 Ways to Develop Empathy

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Empathy is part of our humanity, allowing us to organize ourselves into community and create society; we all have the ability to empathize, but to what extent do we use it? There’s the rub.

Empathy is the feeling and experience that you understand and share another person’s experiences and emotions: the ability to share someone else’s feelings, even if they are far removed from your own.

Empathy in business and communication has recently become a new buzzword; one can readily find people teaching techniques to increase one’s ability to use empathy for one’s self and others. (Not surprisingly, they have found a way of monetizing it.) I’ve been doing some research on this and my personal reaction has been, “What the fuck, you mean people don’t already know how to do this!?” Apparently not.

I have always been afflicted with this ability (and you’ll see why I ruefully use that term later on), so it has been hard for me to realize that it is not as pervasive as I have assumed. How easy it is to simply assume that everyone else holds an ability that you find natural?

One evening, when I was just out of college and pursuing my plan of being a famous comedian, I had an extreme experience of empathy that taught me a lot. I was living in a rented room at a friend’s house, broke, in the midst of a college town in Syracuse New York. Barely surviving, head full of dreams; I took a walk one balmy evening down a quiet street of lovely turn-of-the-century homes that knew generations of families long forgotten, now used for frats and college life, and some few families still raising their children as their immigrant elders did. It was dusk, just that time when the lights from within each house illuminated the rooms inside, allowing you that accidental glimpse of the lives they harbored.

I loved looking inside as I passed. Like a wind-blown skirt exposing a hidden thigh, I couldn’t help but look. I loved environments and what they revealed of the lives that created them. As each one passed, I’d step further outside of myself and into those rooms; the pictures on the walls, the keepsakes on the mantles, the arrangement of furniture, the mislaid clothing, all drew me into the feeling that they were my home. This favorite chair was mine, that picture full of my memories; before long I could see a half-open bathroom door and know that behind it was a bathrobe, a belt hanging, and a cap on the hook behind it, out of my view but known to me. I felt the people who lived there as if they were I; all of the joys, the troubles, the love, back through time, were mine, were me.

I was overtaken that evening by a genuinely indescribable feeling, uncoveyable—but I will try. Each of these houses were like illuminated books on the self of a great library; rows of cardboard comfort, and I knew all of the lives, all of it, and I made the singular realization that, “everything was alright.” Not only that, but everything had always been alright, and everything always would be. All at once, the light of every hearth was made known to me; I stopped, doubled over, my knees weak, my breathing difficult and halting, my vision blurred and my head (and heart) felt like it was about to explode. The best way to describe it is that it was the exact polar opposite of an anxiety attack. I almost fell to me knees but managed to stay standing. When it subsided, I thought, “I am standing in ‘town center’ of college coed angst, depression, and uncertainty, and here I am blissing-out over interior decor—what a weirdo.” Such is the power of empathy.

All of us have the ability to empathize, but some of us are what they call an empath. (Also known as clairsentient.) It took me a long, long time to recognize and deal with this. There are people who can teach you how to cope with this, but most empaths have to figure it out for themselves. I am not a true empath; I have some annoyingly pronounced empathic tendencies. There are really very few empaths around—only a tiny percentage of the population.

empath 2.jpgEmpaths can have a difficult time in life if they don’t recognize themselves as such and understand it. They must learn how to work with their clairsentient ability without getting overwhelmed, and need to accept that they have a more sensitive nervous system and that this has implications for how they lead their life.

Here are the traits of an Empath: See if any of these sound familiar to you. If they do, I recommend researching how to control the skill:

  • Random mood swings even though you have no idea why. You search for possible reasons why you may be feeling the way you do and attach labels that don’t really fit. (You don’t realize that they are not your emotions; you are feeling the emotions of others.)
  • In crowds, your emotions run high and change often–you get anxiety-ridden, panicky, frustrated, angry. You may want to be in a large crowd, but every time you do, you end up feeling tired (and it’s because you emotionally run a marathon of different emotions).  You can even feel physically ill or have intense headaches.
  • People seek you out to confide in you.
  • People like being around you, but every time they are, they end up talking about their problems/issues and yet, your problems/issues are rarely spoken of, if at all.
  • You have a need to make everyone feel better/feel happier and take steps to make it happen.
  • You somehow just “know” what people need to hear in order to feel better about themselves.
  • You have difficulty expressing your own emotions and much prefer to focus on someone else.
  • You often ignore people’s bad treatment of you–explaining it away because they need you, and on some level, that’s enough for you.
  • You are the natural healer, helper & you always sacrifice for others. You NEED to help people. (This is because their need and pain feels like your own.)
  • You are a magnet/receptacle for negative energy. Not because you started out feeling negative, but because others need a place to put their negative energy (and there you were, ready to receive it!).
  • You don’t like feeling bad/down/negative/sad, but you feel resigned & believe it to be part of your lot in life.
  • You are the natural animal lover! You love animals–they make you feel happy and a love that feels like pure innocence.
  • You are a “nature baby.” Being in the country, by the water, at the beach, a good rainstorm, etc.–anything to do with nature brings you a sense of peace that you just crave.
  • Those you love feel physically connected to you, even when miles apart. You can suddenly feel strong shifts in emotions; good or bad that you know are theirs.
  • You can sometimes see emotions in the form of colors or auras.
  • You struggle with setting boundaries because the disappointment, anger and grief (and other emotions) of other people impacts you deeply. It seems that, no matter what you do, it’s always lose-lose for you. Either you stand up for yourself, and get overwhelmed by the negative reactions of others, or you do what they want and don’t feel good about yourself.
  • Your body often feels icky, murky, dark and unpleasant, even if you have no medical condition to attribute those feelings to. For that reason, you like to do things that take your attention away from being physically aware of how your body feels.

These traits do not make an empath, rather empaths generally exhibit some or all of these traits. If you recognize some of these, you may have a strong empathetic tendency or nature.empathy 3

People who are naturally and consistently empathetic can easily forge positive connections with others. They are people who use empathy to engender trust and build bonds; they are catalysts that are able to create positive communities for the greater good. These are the people who inspire others; people tend to refer to them as “a light”, “an inspiration”, “a gift”. They tend to bring people together and bring out the best in people, without really trying. But even if empathy does not come naturally to some of us, we can develop this capacity.

If you don’t recognize many of the above traits, here is how you can increase your ability to empathize with others.

  1. Listen – truly listen to people. Listen with your ears, eyes and heart. Pay attention to others’ body language, to their tone of voice, to the hidden emotions behind what they are saying to you, and to the context.
  2. Don’t interrupt people. Don’t dismiss their concerns offhand. Don’t rush to give advice. Don’t change the subject. Allow people their moment.
  3. Tune in to non-verbal communication. This is the way that people often communicate what they think or feel, even when their verbal communication says something quite different.
  4. Practice the “93 percent rule”. We know from a famous study by Professor Emeritus, Albert Mehrabian of UCLA, when communicating about feelings and attitudes, words – the things we say – account for only 7 percent of the total message that people receive. The other 93 percent of the message that we communicate when we speak is contained in our tone of voice and body language.
  5. Be fully present when you are with people. Don’t think of your response while listening to them. Don’t check your email, look at your phone or take phone calls. Put yourself in their shoes; listen as if it is you who is speaking.
  6. Smile at people.
  7. Encourage people, particularly the quiet ones, when they speak up. A simple thing like an attentive nod can let them know you understand them.
  8. Give genuine recognition and praise. Pay attention to what people are doing and catch them doing the right things. When you give praise, spend a little effort to make your genuine words memorable: “This was pure genius”; “I would have missed this if you hadn’t picked it up.”
  9. Take a personal interest in people. Show people that you care, and have genuine curiosity about their lives. Ask them questions and so understand their challenges, their families, and their aspirations.

The bonds that connect empaths to others are not mere metaphors; they have power, they are actual, visceral, energetic bonds. These connections have real physical/emotional consequence, and can be confusing and problematic for the unwary Emp. Though few have this ability (or affliction, as I jibed earlier), all of us can learn the positive aspects of empathy and use it to make a better society and a better world.

If we can all learn to step outside our own perceptions, beliefs, attachments and behaviors, and seep into those of another, even if we do not agree, and can see, if only for a moment, the world through their eyes and in a compassionate light, we can understand them—and through understanding comes harmony.

Empathetic people are precious and important. Be one.

When we look at the news today, and witness the hatred, intolerance, violence and unconscionable lack of compassion in the world, it is easy to hear the words of that famous 1960’s song sung by Dionne Warwick, “What the world needs now, is love sweet love…”

We can always use more love in the world, but what we really need now is EMPATHY.

“It’s the only thing that there’s just too little of…”

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