Oh the past few days have been very long. In a good way, mind you, but just exhausting. I spent a large part of my time running around with a special crisis team coming up with a doable plan and speed training people on how to respond to students who may have trauma issues triggered by everything that has happened in Japan. It was a sharp reminder that the majority of what is taught to our responders, in this country, as appropriate validating response is some of the most invalidating communication techniques known to mankind.
In a nutshell, if the words “I know how…” or “I can imagine that…” or “I understand…” pass your lips you have engaged in a communication technique that invalidates the other person and slams the door down on them emotionally. The thing is…even if you have been through an identical experience you don’t know what it has been like for the other person. There is no way that you can because our reactions to events involve a complex interplay of our individual emotional experiences, the event and our current mindset. When you say “I can imagine that this is horrible for you,” it shuts people down because it limits their experience to what you can imagine, and you can’t. A simpler phrase “That must be horrible for you.” is more effective and invites the person to share and define their experience.
The nature of empathy is that you emulate the emotions without having a similar experience to relate to. In other words, you can’t imagine how something would feel like for a person, but you feel it. Sympathy is rooted in identifying an understanding of the experience based upon your own, but not necessarily connecting to the re-experiencing of it via the other person (although it may trigger a physical memory of your own response).
Chickens, it turns out, are capable of empathy (the first requirement for compassion). They did a recent study, one of the few that were actually somewhat respectful of the animal, in which they took unrelated chicks, put them within sight of a chicken, and blew air on the chick to ruffle its feathers. The puff of air frightened the chicks and the chickens had a simultaneous physical response of fear and agitation. Funny, I never thought about the blood pressure rate of a chicken before.
It’s funny/sad how disasters bring out the…unedited nature in people. All I am going to say further about that is to suggest you go back to my earlier post of “Things you can do for Japan.” I believe firmly that a balance has to be struck between helping at home and helping abroad. I believe that choosing one or the other only is unbalancing in many ways. I am, appalled at the number of people who are using disaster as a means with which to self-promote, especially under the guise of charity. We should be beyond the need to have to receive a bauble in exchange for our help. As well, I am appalled at the number of people who are using this instance of disaster to promote xenophobic views.
The level of ignorance that has been on display however, should not overshadow the level of compassion and rational help that has also been widely shown. No one has the money to jump to anyone’s aid anymore without a careful consideration of the impact of its cost. But, more and more agencies and people are learning what it means to provide aid through balanced choice. Hopefully, this exercise will wash over into a re-evaluation of economies and budgets and bring to the discussion more rational approaches to resolving our financial crisis at home and abroad and without sacrificing the core of humanity.
I was fortunate, these past few days, to not only sit down and have a discussion with a Lecturer of Finances from a local University but also to spend some extensive time helping to edit an interview with an accountant/business planner. It was heartening because both of them were expressing pragmatic views on the economy and various suggestions that have been bandied about (i.e. the flat tax, which I was in favor of and now am not having been educated about its impact). But the most heartening thing was the message they gave that the rising generation is recognizing that planning must be done in 5 year and longer blocks. It is irrational to think that short term solutions can resolve and prevent future crisis’s. Added into that is a rejection of the rising generation of the concept of money and things as having any real weight and value. The “currency of community” is rising instead.
However, in-between this generation becoming influential in society we are still at the mercy of the “lost generations.” These are the ones for home rhetoric without content is the norm, nihilistic destruction without alternate planning is desired and a basic grasp of the ways in which politics, society and economics function is something they have never learned (nor are inclined to learn).
It is interesting; this is a sidetrack, to see the difference in reactions between the generations over the issue of a nuclear emergency. Its like a world separates the cold war generation (of which I am part of the tail end of that – I remember the air raid drills in elementary school) and the generations who never knew that era except as history.
The one thing that is interesting, is that this rising generation with its tentative grasp of the realistic mechanics of politics and society and humanitarian choices, is that they are being shaped by something that has bee missing from America for the past 5 or so decades. This is the first generation in over 40-50 years that is being shaped by reading. Ebooks have become hip. Reading is in. They cannot get enough of it and the content and quality they are demanding is also reshaping our liberal arts.
Reshaping our liberal arts and the minds and souls of those who will shape the future.
c.2011. Cassandra Tribe. All Rights Reserved.