Do you have it?

September 29, 2020

From an earlier post to the Jack’s Winning Words blog – As seen in the Speed Bump cartoon – A women sitting on a park bench says – “Some people never have it. Some people have it mildly and some people react so badly to it.”  The man sitting next to her says  – “Yeah, the virus is…” to which she responds – “ I was talking about empathy.”

Do you have empathy? One easy way to tell is to think about how you react as you watch the nightly news. When the stories about the Black Lives Matter come on do you immediately feel the pain and frustration that the marchers are trying to get across or do you feel angry or frightened by the scene. Do you identify with the marchers or with the man who drives his car into the demonstrators? Is your reaction to think about what you can do to help make things better for the people demonstrating against racial injustice or does this immediately cause you to become defensive about the things that you feel the marchers are trying to take from you? Can you see where the people with empathy are coming from? Maybe you more closely identify with the people who have apathy for the plight to the marchers. Perhaps your reaction might even be classified as animosity.

Having empathy is a good thing, but empathy without taking action is like daydreaming – pretty much a waste of time.  Read the words of James 2:14-17 and mentally substitute the word “empathy” for the word “faith” in this passage –

What good is it, my brothers, if someone says he has faith but does not have works? Can that faith save him? If a brother or sister is poorly clothed and lacking in daily food, and one of you says to them, “Go in peace, be warmed and filled,” without giving them the things needed for the body, what good is that? So also faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead.

You get the idea. That is just one of many passages that are calls for action in service to others. Make no mistake about it, the current demonstrations about police brutality and systemic racism in America are calls to action and taking no action is a sin, as James points out later in that chapter – “So whoever knows the right thing to do and fails to do it, for him it is sin.” (James 4:17)

Do not seek refuge in the excuse that you are only one little person and cannot by yourself effect changes in our society. We all have the tendency to mutter to ourselves, “I wish somebody would do something about that”, but too few of us take the next step and be the somebody who does it. James also captured that dilemma for Christians when he said – “But be doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving yourselves.”  (James 1:22)

We deceive ourselves if we think we have empathy but take no action from it. I have posted here before about taken steps, not matter how small they may seem to help effect change in your life and the lives of others, most recently in the post Be the Somebody.

So, if you have it (empathy); take the next step and Be the Somebody who does something about it.

Always carry a spare smile…

June 12, 2019

In today’s post to his blog – Jack’s Winning Words – Jack Freed shared this thought from Dolly Parton – “If you see someone without a smile, give ‘em yours.” Jack went on to Dolly PArtonwrite that recent studies have shown that people are less happy today than they were in the 1990’s. Although he didn’t mention why that is true, he did echo Dolly’s advice about taking the time to listen to those that you encounter during the day and sharing a smile where needed.

As a society, we have become a bit more introverted and insular. I blame the rise of the smartphone for at least some of that. We have allowed ourselves to be captivated andcouple-looking-at-phones captured by a device that steals time away from everything else, including our interactions with other human beings. Me may not even notice the frown or sadness on the face of those that we encounter because we are too busy looking at our phones. We certainly don’t take the time to ask what is wrong, and since we can’t Google that, we just move on to the next attention grabber that shows up on our screen.

So, perhaps the first step to all of us getting better and having smiles would be to put this-is-medown those smartphones and take a good look at what is going on around us. Step two might be to make sure that we put a smile on our own face. I’ve posted here a few times about loving yourself before you can share love with others (see the post Start your day with love and the rest will take care of itself). So take a moment, before you set out on your day, to find that love of self and who you are that will put a smile on your face. Many times that may involve taking time for a short prayer of thanks to God for another day. Acknowledging and accepting the love of God each day allows you to also love yourself and then to be ready to share that love with others.

Back to the thought of the day about sharing a smile. In order to share your smile you need to do a little more than just smile at someone, although that helps, too. Perhaps your smile is the icebreaker that allows you to ask, “How are you doing?” or even “Is there something troubling you that I might be able to help with?” That might be being kind 1awkward with a total stranger, but many of the people that you encounter won’t be total strangers. Finding a way to initiate a conversation will allow you to find out what may be troubling them. Even if you can’t really do anything to help in the situation; just giving them an outlet to talk about whatever it is that is troubling them will help. You can be empathetic and supportive, even if you can’t solve the problem. Sometimes they may just need a shoulder to cry on or a good hug of reassurance.

So, always carry a spare smile and be ready to share it with others who might need it today. You have more and they need the one on your face more than you do, right now. smiling-sunPut away your smartphone and look around you for those who might need to borrow your smile. When you find them and give them your smile, you’ll find that God immediately puts another smile on your face so you can continue His work in the world.

Share a smile today!

Lead with your heart…your head will catch up

February 20, 2019

A recent post to the Jack’s Winning Words blog contained this bit of advice –

“To handle yourself, use your head; to handle others, use your heart.”  (Donald Laird)

It is always good advice to use your head to maintain control of yourself, especially before you do things that you might regret, like speaking when listening is what is best. We tend to associate things like logic and intelligence with the head, while the heart isvisualization associated with empathy and emotions. Where things like prejudices and hate come from is a mystery, since they defy real logic and certainly don’t express empathy. They are perhaps closer to emotions that are based upon imagined fears.  Those feelings live in a dark place in our heads and had to be put there by someone, since they are not innate within people. Fears and prejudices cause us to avoid or hate the things or people associated with them for no logical reason.

The first step to overcoming one’s fears and prejudices is to use your head to acknowledge that you have them; then let your heart take over to deal with them in the predjuicesspecific instance that you are facing. We tend to hate or fear people in large, blurry groups that we classify as “they” or “them”. It is somehow easier to lump large numbers of people into those prejudiced categories in those dark places in our minds. We think that “all” of a certain type of people present a danger to us; and thus, are to be avoided.  We immediately think that everyone who displays certain characteristics of appearance or behavior is one of “them” and by association inherits all of the other characteristics that we have loaded on that group in our minds.

When circumstances bring us face to face with someone from one of our feared/prejudice groups the outcome is most often very different than we initially image.handshake We discover the individual, rather than the group. Our heart takes over and allows us to see the fellow human being that is there, rather than the group characteristics that the prejudices in our head may initially associate with them.  That pause allows the head to kick in again and to begin having an intelligent interaction with the person, rather than one driven by fears.

Perhaps the best advice is that in the headline for today’s post. Lead with your heart when dealing with others. Let’s your heart’s natural instinct for empathy and listenfriendliness initiate the encounters that you have with others during the day. Let your heart tell you when it’s best to just listen and commiserate, rather than letting your brain start running your mouth. Your brain may come up with all sorts of things to say that it thinks will be interesting, but your heart will tell you that what the other person may need  right now is someone to just listen.

So, resolve to lead with your heart today. Give everyone you encounter the benefit of the doubt, rather than automatically categorizing them into some prejudice group based upon their appearance. Start off with the attitude that this person you just met is this-is-mesomeone who may become a friend, rather than someone to be feared and avoided.  Lead with your heart. Don’t worry, your head will catch up.

Trying to understand others without a frame of reference…

November 23, 2016

There are lots of things that I wish I understood better or maybe understood at all. Recently I visited the blog of a new follower for this blog and ran smack into one of those things. That new follower turned out to be the site, which is a site where people living on the autism spectrum can share stories and posts anonymously. One post title in particular caught my attention and it was actually a referral to another site – The Mighty – which has a wider focus on mental health issues. It was not anonymous, since it was from that different site.

The post is –

Lori Sealy of The Mighty shares – My Answer to the Question ‘What Does Autism Feel Like?’ talking about her sensory processing differences and how they contribute to her experiences as a member of the autism spectrum. This is a must read article that can help you establish how far from your own frame a reference for life someone else’s frame of reference can be. Once you understand that, you are ready to start trying to accept others.

As I read through Lori’s article the thing that really struck me was that trying to understand autism and how it affects the people who live with it is really trying to boredunderstand something for which I have absolutely no frame of reference. It is a common mistake when we try to understand things like this from our own frame of reference, our own life experiences and knowledge base. Lori’s descriptions of her sensory perceptions of the world are so far removed from my own that I had trouble even imagining what that must be like, yet it was trying to imagine it that helped me understand how little that I really understand. It also helped expand my thinking about how I react, or might react to others; especially those who might be far removed from my own frame of reference. I intend to follow up by reading more of the posts at the site and probably at The Mighty site, too.

There are many ethnic and  lifestyle groups that I’m trying to better understand, such as people who identify as members of the GLBTQ community. I felt like I was somewhat comfortable with my understanding of the GLB part of that; but the T and Q parts left me searching for a frame of reference to use, in order to better understand the experiences visualizingand point of view of people self-identifying in those categories. I read a rather scholarly article on the T part of that, which I found on the site (a site for Lutheran churches that wish to become safe haven places of worship for GLBTQ people who are seeking a church home). That article left me even more confused, so I ordered a more complete book on the topic from the site. In reality my understanding of the entire community is on shaky grounds, so perhaps that book will help some, or at least point out how little I really already know.

My point is that I have this trouble understanding most of these things, and I suspect many people have the same problem. Perhaps this is because we’ve all been trying to different-points-of-viewunderstand things from our own frame of reference, rather than opening our minds to an entirely different frame of reference and an entirely different way of looking at things. Maybe others, like Lori, have an entirely different way of processing sensory inputs and experiences or a different way of making choices – a different frame of reference.

The more that I’ve thought about that the more convinced that I am that I have not been trying to understand at all; I was just judging the people that I encountered by a set of standards that I call my frame of reference. My frame of reference is the result of my judge thingsupbringing and experiences, my education and knowledge base, my beliefs and my fears and misconceptions.  That judgement of others starts with the presumption that whatever I feel or think must be “right” and anyone else that I encounter who deviates from that definition of “right”, must somehow be “wrong”. Different must be wrong. Not acting, and reacting, as I do must be wrong. Not being like me must be wrong. Apparently, not being me is wrong. How wrong is that?

Then I recalled the response that Pope Francis had to a question about gay priests. The Pope said, “Who am I to judge?” I think that is a healthy attitude that can be applied across the board when dealing with others, no matter how different they may be from me or you. Who are we to judge? So, my new mantra will be, “Who am I to judge?”

I have concluded that I will never really understand another person’s frame of reference and I have decided that I should not judge others by my own frame of reference; so, what’s left? If I don’t judge others and I don’t understand others; how do I act and react with girls huggingothers? Well, there’re still a lot of options left. One could start with acceptance. Accepting the person as you find them and not immediately judging them or rushing in to try to change them is a good first step.  You could continue by striving for some level of empathy with that other person’s perspective on life. That requires other things, such as patience, sympathy, sharing, openness, kindness, perseverance and a willingness to learn, among others. One may end up quite often saying, “Wow, I never looked at things that way”’; and that’s a good thing. That’s a step towards understanding and so much better than just deciding that the other person’s point of view is wrong, just because it is not the same as yours.

It’s not easy taking that first step towards “acceptance”; rather than rushing into the more usual first step of judgement. In fact, I find that I must often step back from having made a preemptive judgement and recall the Pope’s words – “Who am I to judge?” If I can men huggingstop myself early enough, before I have caused the damage to the relationship that a judgement can cause; then I still have the option to accept that other person. Perhaps I will never get all the way to understanding that other person’s frame of reference for life, but maybe I can get to the point of accepting and appreciating them for who they are and trying to learn something from their different perspective on life. Who knows; maybe I can make a friend of someone, if I take the time not to make an enemy. Who am I to judge?

Have a great, judgement-free Thanksgiving!

Be there for someone today…

May 23, 2016

“Remember that everyone you meet is afraid of something, loves something and has lost something.”  (H. Jackson Brown Jr) – as seen recently on the Jack’s Winning Words blog.

timidYou will meet many people this week and all of them will be people for whom the little quote above applies. Many of them may also be someone who is need of someone else to share their fears or sadness or love with; someone who cares about them and their situation or condition. Maybe that can be you.

Our typical greeting of, “How are you?” has become such a throw-away line that we really don’t expect an answer, other than perhaps the retort, “Fine, how are you?” We ask without really caring about the other person. If anything, we respond because we want to tell them about our troubles or issues, in hopes of evoking their empathy with our situation.

I meet very few people in day-to-day life who seem really interested in the response to their, “How are you?” question. The more normal interaction is with someone who is chopping at the bit to tell me about themselves ad to share their problems. When I do meet someone who is genuinely interested in understanding me it is almost immediately obvious that their opening question, was just that – the beginning of what they hope to be a dialogue that will answer their other questions, like who are you, what makes you tick, what interesting things can I learn about you and from you? I’ve written here before that Pastor Doug McMunn, Pastor of the Milford United Methodist Church, is one such person.

How can you tell when you’ve met such a person? Well for one, they will spend much more time listening than talking themselves. They will ask short open-ended questions andempathy then intently listen to your answers. They will express empathy or sympathy, while also offering support and encouragement. You will also notice that you start to feel better because you found someone with whom you can share things that may have been nagging at you or even overwhelming you. Figuratively (and perhaps literally), you have found a shoulder to cry upon. You’ll feel better and they will too, for having been there for you.

How can you pay it forward? Be there for someone else this week. Be that good listener. Mean it when you ask the question, “How are you?” Stop and offer a shoulder to cry upon; then offer the support and encouragement that they need to move on in life. Help that person understand that they are not alone in their pain or sorrow or fears. Help them extract those demons and deal with them.

Do you need a hugThere is a rather famous sports clip of the late Jimmy Valvano running around the court after NC State won the 1983 National Championship game (click here to view ). He would later say that he was just running around looking for someone to hug. Many of us are like that in life. We run around through life looking for someone to hug. Be there this week to get and give that hug.

Be a peach and not the pits…

April 28, 2016

“You can be the ripest, juiciest peach in the world, but there’s still going to be somebody who hates peaches.”  (Dita Von Teese) – as seen on the Jack’s Winning Words blog.

Everyone wants to be liked. In fact I get messages everyday asking me to “Like” someone like meor something. Jack wrote about that social media phenomenon in his post that went along with this quote. He observed that young people in particular seem to crave the acceptance of “likes” on Facebook or other social media. “Likes” are even a measure of the acceptance of posts to blogs like this one and I must admit that it feels good to have some of my readers take the time to “Like” a specific post.

The gist of today’s quote is that it’s impossible to have everyone “Like” you for everything that you are or that you do, even if you behave like you are “the ripest, juiciesbad attitudet peach in the world.” Understanding that and accepting it will make life much easier and help you avoid getting down on yourself because someone doesn’t “Like” you, which is the pits. Some people are just natural contrarians who find the behavior of happy, friendly people to be offensive. They enjoy being grumpy and resist any amount of effort from you to cheer them up. For them, disliking you is as much a mark of your impact on them as a “Like” might be from someone else.

You could just write off this reaction and go about your merry, happy way; however, you might also accept this as a personal challenge. The challenge is to really take the time to understand what it is that is bothering this person so much that they express their pain or kissing mirroranger or frustrations with life by disliking you. Perhaps you have become, as some might put it, “too sweet, too cute or too syrupy” in your approach to others. What that says to them is that you are oblivious and insensitive to their needs or situation and too wrapped up in yourself to make the effort share in their current feelings or needs. To their way of thinking you’ve become the pit and not the peach that you think you are.

A lesson for us all out of those types of experiences is that “Likes” in life are to be earned and not just ask for or expected. The way that you earn a “like” from others is to be genuinely interested in them and sensitive to their needs and not just wrapped up in girls huggingyourself. It’s OK to try to cheer them up or to share your happiness with them, so long and you first understand their situation and make an effort to earn their “like” through empathy to their needs and not just through the aura of your own happiness.

So, be a peach today, but be sensitive to the needs of others that you meet, so that you don’t come across as the pits to them.

Show someone that you care…

April 9, 2015

“People want to know how much you care before they care how much you know.”  (James F. Hind) – I’m relatively sure that this little gem came to me from the Jack’s Winning Words blog some time ago.

I’ve written here before about being a good listener – Listening is just one indication that you care about the person that you are with and what they have to say. Going beyond just listening and engaging them in a meaningful conversation is another indication.

Some would have you believe that exchanging a quick hug or an air-kiss is an indication of caring about the other person, but in many cases it’s just a perfunctory gesture with little real meaning or emotions behind it. Many people are so
opinionatedfocused upon what they have to say, thinking it to be the most important thing going on at the time, that they miss more than half of the communications exchange that was happening – the non-verbal, body-language parts. Their “let me show you how smart I am” approach to conversations quickly turns off listeners who might have their own opinions on the topic but who need to be drawn out to express those opinions. The know-it-all will wander off wondering why their remarks didn’t resonate better with the silent partner in the conversation; never realizing that their delivery itself showed that they really didn’t care to hear the opinions of others.

So, what can you do to show that you care? Maybe you can begin by focusing not upon what your next statement will be, but what your next question should be. Show the other person that you were interested enough in what they had to say to want to delve into it further and by doing so that you want to understand them and their point of view better. If you cancaring start your next remarks with Why or What or How; you stand a much better chance of both showing that you care and learning more about that person.

Another way to show that you care is by doing rather than just talking. Jump in and help them with something. Volunteer to take a part of the load that they are bearing or the task that they are performing. The old saw that “actions speak louder than words” is true and nothing shows more care than helping. Sometimes there’s nothing that you can do and the best way to show that you care is just to be empathetic and/or sympathetic. People whom you meet who are grieving a loss need that sort of support and care from you.

Sometimes the best way to show that you care is to help the other person find their way back to whatever Faith they have. Many events can take a person to the edge of the abyss and obscure the path back from the edge in darkness. There is lifes stormsno stronger light that can be used to cut through that darkness than Faith. If through your caring touch and conversation you can help them rekindle that light of their faith, you will be helping them on the journey back from the darkness of the depression that has led them to the edge. Show them that you care and remind them that God cares and help them see that nothing is impossible with His help. Perhaps you have a personal experience that you can share with them to help reinforce that message. Show that you care by sharing it with them. I think that you will find that you are as touched and reinforced by that sharing as they are and both of you will be the better for it.

So, what can you do today to show people that you care? Is there someone who has been trying to tell you something; but, you were too busy showing them how smart you are? Are their people talking at you whom you are not really caregiver handshearing? Take some time to listen. Take some time to ask questions. Take some time to get to really know those people and share their points of view. It will be time well spent. Let someone know that you care today.