Ya feel?

Hands

Sympathy. Empathy. Compassion. All that touchy-feely emotional stuff that many struggle with, but so many more show without even thinking. But do we really need it? And what’s the difference between the three? Someone asked me once to help them be more empathetic and I have to admit it threw me. I hadn’t really ever thought about it before. I mean, if someone is hurting you feel sorry for them, right? Seems simple enough. But wait is that sympathy or empathy or compassion? Ugh. So confusing. And can you really teach that or is it ingrained but some people just choose to ignore it?

Okay, let’s shed some light, shall we? Here’s the scoop, as far as I’m concerned anyway. I may be right, you may disagree, all ok either way. Let’s take sympathy first. If someone loses a loved one or their job or they have a really bad day, you feel sorry for them, right? Why? Because you are a human who can understand that circumstances like that can cause someone to feel bad and you can acknowledge that. It’s nothing to do with you but it’s like you’re saying “Hey, I’m sorry that happened.” You reach out, you connect in that moment, that person feels acknowledged and life goes on.

Now, empathy is a step further because – and hold onto your pants, people – your own emotions get involved. You put yourself in their shoes to better understand what they are going through. Say someone stubs their toe. Whilst you may not have actually stubbed your toe in that moment, you can almost feel it, maybe even recollect a time you did it too and therefore really feel for the person who is actually experiencing it. You screw up your face at the thought of it and usually make some kind of “ooooooooo” sound to tell them you know how they’re feeling (which I’m sure we can all agree does not ever, ever help relieve the pain). This, in turn, acknowledges that person’s experience and thus strengthening that connection between you both as you share the pain.

Which then just leaves us with compassion. This is the step beyond empathy when your mutual experience of emotion moves you to actually want to help them. Those of you that know me, know I’m a hugger. I admit it. I fly that flag proudly. I’ll never force one, but if someone needs one, I’ll damn well give them one. A good one too. Why? Because there are few tough situations that aren’t eased by a hug, amirite? That momentary connection between two people that says “hey, I feel your pain and I can’t necessarily fix it but I really want to make you feel better”. That, to me, is how compassion works. You go out of your way, out of what’s going on in your own life, to be aware of something that someone else is going through and do whatever you can to help them.

Sympathy, empathy, compassion: we see examples of them every day. Either-which-way, we need them. We’re all buzzing around in our own little worlds, dealing with our own stuff, but when you stop and notice someone else having a tough time and reach out it can make a world of difference. It can soften the blow and remind us we aren’t going through things alone. Can it be taught? I don’t think so. Why? Because I think we are all innately sympathetic, empathetic and compassionate at our core. Whether we chose to be aware of what others are going through and do anything about it is ultimately up to us. We can make that choice to reach out and make sure no one goes through anything alone.

 

 

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Write here, write now

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The handwritten letter. A thing of legends. What an absurd notion: having to find paper and pen and using your entire hand, not just your fingertip, to write down a full update of your happenings. Oh gosh. Then have to find a stamp and mail it? And wait, you’re telling me the receiver doesn’t even get the letter for a couple of days at least? What is this insanity you speak of?! And sometimes people send them for no reason at all; just to make someone’s day? That’s it, you must leave straight away and take your outrageous ideas elsewhere. Yeah, that pretty much verbalizes the looks I get when people see me writing letters these days. Makes me smile every time.

Yes, I admit it, I still write letters. Quite a few of us do actually. I know a rather fabulous lady who sends out a letter once a month to one lucky unsuspecting person. I’m pretty sure she takes as much delight in sending it as I’m sure the person receiving it feels. It’s like that feeling when you find a clutch parking spot close to the front when the car park is seemingly full. Or like when you unexpectedly find money in a pocket. Or that feeling when you wake up your usual time only to remember it’s the weekend. That is the feeling someone gets when they receive a letter they weren’t expecting.

So, no deep and pondering post today, just me challenging you to give someone that feeling. Do it for no reason except to know you have made someone feel like that. If you can’t think of someone to write to, there are some wonderful organizations who reach out to people who may need that feeling more than most. Start at the Write On Campaign for some ideas. I know, I know, its one more thing to do in your day. But you know what, I’m pretty sure taking 5 minutes out of your day to spread a little happy will be so worth it for you as much as the receiver. Just try it. Try it just once at least. Be the reason someone’s day is a little better. Go get your karma on, people.

Don’t read this!

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Oooo check you out; you little rebel! So edgy. Balking instruction, living on the edge, walking down the road with your personal soundtrack of Fleetwood Mac’s Go Your Own Way. I digress. Focus, Helen, focus. Where was that train of thought going? Oh yes. I remember now: the mind.

The mind is a fascinating little bugger. Did you know that it cannot really process a negative? What if I said to you, “don’t think of a pink elephant” – too late right? That colorful pachyderm is right there in all it’s glory already. This phenomenon is related to the Ironic Process – a cognitive challenge brought about by the musings of a chap named Fyodor Dostoevsky . According to our boy Dostoevsky, it basically happens because in trying to suppress the negative, the brain focuses even more on that very thought which then results in the opposite outcome. Quite the cognitive paradox.

Just think about the instances when this can have some pretty adverse effects in life. Take, for example, the rather MMA-like realm of parenting, or taking care of others in general. When we see a little one heading for something hot, with both hands outstretched, what is our first reaction? We shout “don’t touch that” right? And yet low and behold the warning often goes ignored and thus ensues floods of tears and us saying “I told you not to touch it.” So with this in mind, we should really watch our words if we are hoping for a particular outcome. Easier said than done, I know, especially when it is a potentially dangerous situation. But just try it out. Be aware of what wording you are using. So instead of “don’t worry, you’ll be fine”  try instead, “hey, you’ve totally got this.” Or next time someone is stressing out, skip saying, “don’t be stressed” and try “time to get your calm on” or something like that.

Hmmm, maybe it even works on ourselves. So instead of saying, “you shouldn’t have any more chocolate” you can say “you’ve had enough chocolate.” Ok, maybe a bad example. My mind would shoot that one down in a chocolate covered heartbeat. But you get the idea. It is an interesting concept that is definitely worth thinking about and discussing next time the conversation slows. You know it makes sense: ask the pink elephant. Oh, don’t want to think of a pink elephant anymore? Think of a blue rhino. You’re welcome.

No crystal ball

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I don’t know about you, but I am not a mind reader. Nor do I have a crystal ball – okay, well I do but it’s for photography not fortune telling! I also cannot read tea leaves nor consult the stars for truths. Call me old fashioned but unless someone actually tells me what they want, there is a good chance I may not know. So why do we all have our moments (and yes, we all do it) of getting annoyed when others don’t know exactly what we are thinking or feeling? Or we throw an internal wobbly when someone hasn’t magically known our expectations of a situation and don’t react in the way we had hoped or planned.

So here is my question to you to ponder over today: do expectations serve a positive purpose? I like to think that there is a positive intention behind everything, but with expectations I just don’t know. The buggers just seem to set us up for upset and disappointment. It’s like those restaurants that have photos of their dishes on the menus. What are the chances of your order actually looking like that photo? Pretty slim. Do we fear the unknown and perhaps want to have control of every situation so create a possible outcome to then lull us into a false sense of security? (And yes, I did just write “lull us into a false sense of security” – my all time favorite sentence to get extra points in pretty much any English essay when I was at school!) But then quelle surprise, people, that little bubble of security is popped and we end up feeling disappointed or hurt because of that set expectation. So again I ask, why do we do that to ourselves? And should we just instead allow things to happen as they happen with no expectation of the outcome?

This time I am throwing it out to you, faithful readers. What is the point of expectations and how can we stop them ruling our lives so negatively? Do we just need to change our perspective of them? What do you think? Let’s talk this one out. Over to you…

 

Wherefore art thou, common sense?

binoculars-1209011_1920Okay, by all means get me a rocking chair and your nearest porch to rock that baby on – it’ll be well deserved, trust me. Can we just talk about common sense for a minute? Actually can we talk about the fact that it appears to have become some weird superpower or an elusive Black Lotus amongst the citizens of this fine planet.

You only have to walk down the street, sit in a cafe, drive on the road, go on social media, basically have any interaction with people to see that vast gaping hole in their lives where common sense once resided. At least I hope it was there at some point, because at least that gives the somewhat-false sense of security that it can be reinstated at some point. Here’s the thing I want to know though: where did it go?

I put this question to some rather fabulous young minds in a casual conversation and they had a pretty simple answer. They basically said that it is because we’re told how to think way more today than we ever were. Everything is spelt out for us. Don’t do this. Make sure you do this. If you do this, make sure you don’t do this. Everything is watched, documented and scrutinized in the name of public interest. We are being programmed all the time from so many directions that we aren’t given the chance or encouragement to cultivate the essential life skill of common sense. Many of our judgements are prefabricated instead of being able to be developed with simple practical experience. It’s a complicated mess for sure and I am not saying we haven’t always faced these kinds of challenges before. But you only have to sit and watch videos of people choosing to light their arses on fire on social media, or watch people drive on a rainy day or observe people on Black Friday, to feel that we have reached a new low of common sense.

Our kids’ instinct to survive, whatever comes along, needs to be nurtured. You can’t set rules for every single little thing. Always makes me think of this scene in that swashbuckling franchise where they are questioning the ‘Pirate Code‘ and the guy says the code is more about guidelines. That’s what we need in life: guidelines. Guidelines and common sense. If only.

Anyway, I could go on for days about this but I shall spare you. Have thoughts about it? Let me know. What does common sense mean to you? If nothing else let’s get out there and re-cultivate common sense together. Let’s set an example and hope to Zeus that people learn from it. I’m game, if you are. Good luck, my friends 🖖🏼

Once Upon A Time…

technology-3167297_1920“Once upon a time…” that’s how it begins, right? Those four familiar words that mean a great story is about to begin. What it will entail; we know not. What characters will we meet; yep, no idea. Where it will be set and where it will take us; nope, we don’t know that either. What we do know is that it is the starting block for a journey through time, just as it states. So I’d like to change one of those words if I may. Now don’t panic, I just mean for a moment. Just for this moment right here together, as you read this, I would like to change the word “a” for “my.” I’ll let that sink in because I know you are now saying it over in your head, “Once upon my time…” sounds weird, right? But hey, we all know anything different to the so-called norm is always hard to process at first. Remember back when people first said “Google it” instead of “look it up” or when you first heard someone say “lit” and you thought “wait, what?!” Yeah, yeah good times. Anyways, I digress. Back to our storytelling; back to “once upon my time….”

The thing is, we are all living our own story, right? – Yes, that is where I was going with this. And yet, how often do we truly embrace our own story? The characters, the settings, the storyline, the plot twists. Why is it so much easier to focus on other people’s stories? It’s like we literally prefer reading over other people’s shoulders, with our own still in hand. And it’s sad how dissatisfied we can be with our story, often looking back and overanalyzing previous chapters or fearing the chapters to come. But hey, the story goes on regardless, right? The pages keep turning with or without us like they are being controlled by some mystical force. Each day pages take on new words with new meanings; new characters to teach us new lessons, and new experiences leading to new character depths. And when you think about it everything that has come before this moment has made us the person we are today: the good parts and the bad parts. It is all part of our story; part of our character development. Remember that we cannot appreciate those good parts of the story without having the contrast of the tougher parts.

Here is my question: How can we make sure that we love every chapter, read every page and respect every aspect? Oh and for the record, I have the attention span of a flea, so more often than not I literally want to put my book down and walk away, especially when things get tough. I am, therefore, asking myself this as much as I am asking you. Okay, enough of this. I challenge us all to take the time to own our life and love our story – or should it be own our story and love our life? Either way, let’s do this.

The end.

Play nice

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I just had a friend bring me a card, a bunch of roses and a box of deliciously-sinful sugary cereal. It’s not my birthday. It’s not a special occasion. She knew I was having a rough day and wanted to make it better. Mission accomplished. Yesterday, I saw a shop employee help a young mother out to her car who didn’t have enough hands to push the stroller, carry her shopping and comfort her upset little one. Why did she help her? Because she saw she needed help, and decided to help. I also saw on the Russell Howard Hour about a subway conductor, Carl Downer, who makes the most chilled and happy announcements over the speaker just to make the commuters’ day a little brighter.  He doesn’t have to, he isn’t paid extra to do that, he just does it to benefit others. His happy kindness towards others is contagious. You watch him and want to be more like him.  And hey don’t you roll your eyes at the prospect of this being just another post about being nice to each other. I mean, I’m not gonna lie, that pretty much is the vibe here but stay with me. Ponder with me. Why? Because how we treat each other is really important. It’s that simple. It’s like the blood that pumps through the veins of our coexistence on this rather fabulous hunk of planetary matter. So why do we have to keep reminding each other that there is kindness out there and that nice people still exist?

When we are little we are taught to play nice, to share, to hug, to look out for each other and basically taught the golden rule of “treat people how you want to be treated”. Well, it was a nice thought, right? I mean, it worked for a little while but then we grew up. Then we learnt about jealousy, selfishness and stopped playing so nice with others. Maybe that’s not quite fair, we do all have our nice moments still but it seems to be more when it suits us. And I’m not saying the world is now filled with horrid people, I’m just saying maybe we need to step back and look at how we are treating each other. Life is busy and hectic and stressful no question – a sad reality, for sure – but how much easier are things when we are being aware of each other? Isn’t it a little bit easier to handle that busy, hectic stress when someone gives us a hand, or a smile or a little reprieve when we’re having a tough day? Kindness and being nice can spread like wildfire, it’s a fact. We have all seen the videos spreading that same message. One of my favorites was created by an organization in the Czech Republic called Krizovatka. Ok, now you want to see it, don’t you? Here it is. Go on, go watch it. It’s worth it. I’ll wait.

So here is the thing: we all have up and down days. We are all dealing with our own demons and challenges, but that doesn’t diminish our capacity for empathy, kindness and compassion. So let’s try, just for one day, in every action, every decision, every interaction with another person, to be aware of how nice you are being. Are you treating those people the way you would want them to treat you? Call it a little social experiment. Maybe it works, maybe it doesn’t. Let’s see how it affects our day and those around us. Then come back here and tell me what you find. So go forth, good people, go play nice! Be the reason someone believes in kindness today.