My own version of a lecture

My sister and I went to a lecture on Empathy yesterday. It was disappointing. The person giving the lecture basically wrote a paper on his perception of empathy and how he learned to cope with it. I’m not sure that his experiences in life made him qualified to lecture on it and he really was not very good as a lecturer. I thought I would try explaining my perceptions on the subject instead.

I think my husbands reaction when I told him we were going to a class on coping with empathy is a good example of how people think of empathy so let us start with  a Google definition:

noun: empathy
  1. the ability to understand and share the feelings of another.
early 20th century: from Greek empatheia (from em- ‘in’ + pathos ‘feeling’) translating German Einfühlung .

Translate empathy

Empathy is not the same as having sympathy and reacting because of it. People who are strongly empathetic do not necessarily become highly sensitive and touchy. If you want to take all emotion out of it and give it a different definition I thin you could say that empathy is the the ability to instinctively know why people are acting and reacting the way they are. Unlike the Doctor who gave the lecture I am not entirely convinced it is something you are born with like some sort of telepathic power. I think it may be a heightened perception of people and their actions coupled with a natural instinct on how to apply it.

All of my life I have watched people and the subtle behaviors that indicate mood and predict their next actions. I think I learned this at a very young age as a self preservation technique. I practiced it consciously and unconsciously for so long that I think I naturally do it now without thought. I can not always tell you how I know someone is lying but when someone lies to me it usually seems incredibly apparent to me and I have trouble understanding why everyone in the room doesn’t suddenly laugh out loud at them. That is a downside of empathy. You start seeing all of the small petty behaviors in other people and in yourself. When someone does something horrible you understand their motivation and how they justify it to themselves.  Then you have to question what is wrong with you that allows you to understand that horribleness. It also means that digital communication only works for so long. You need to hear someones voice or see their body language occasionally to reestablish your connection to their actions and reassure yourself on their motivations.

An upside to empathy is that when someone is genuine you feel an immediate trust in them and know that you can relax. Another upside is that I think I naturally get along well with small children. They are transparent and easy to understand for me usually. When I see a child who is not transparent it makes me very uncomfortable. Those are the kids that are in trouble.

I also have to be very careful to not always react to what I think peoples motivations are. Sometimes you have to let things play out on someones plan. One of the things that I have learned that I would have taught had I given the lecture is that you must spend more time thinking about your own motivations and stop and ask yourself before an action or word. Why am I saying this? Is it to push someone else into a reaction to get what I want? Is it to subtly make them feel smaller so that I appear larger? Is it to illicit sympathy and get what I want by manipulation?  To use an old fashioned word I try to check myself occasionally and make sure my motivations are noble. Am I thinking  about the greater good rather than my own little immediate need. If it is for my own need is it at least not causing harm to anyone else. As long as I can answer that with a yes I’m okay.


Museum of Modern Art in Amsterdam. One of my favorite parts of the trip. I have never been in a MOMA and I fell in love. Gave me the same feeling in my chest as Opera. :)
Museum of Modern Art in Amsterdam. One of my favorite parts of the trip. I have never been in a MOMA and I fell in love. Gave me the same feeling in my chest as Opera. 🙂

6 thoughts on “My own version of a lecture

  1. Interestingly, I can’t think of many or any empathetic men.

    You define empathy in a way I would have never considered it – as a self defense mechanism or maybe your term of self preservation technique is more appropriate. Because I have never considered empathy in the way that you use it, I have trouble with this application of it. Not that I think that you are wrong, because I don’t think you are, it just is difficult to wrap my brain around using empathy to detect, for a lack of a better way to put it, the dark side.

    It sounds like a difficult path to travel. Although, now that I think about it, the women friends that I have, that have grown up in some sort abusive situation seem to do this. Some for protection and one to manipulate before she is manipulated.

    I think you are spot on about children who aren’t transparent.

    I guess because I am not a deep thinker and just live on the face value level this all just confounds me. Because I am so basic, it is hard for me to remember that some people are much more complicated.

    But because you have brought this up this is where I come clean. I lied to you. I think it might have been on the Iowa trip. I don’t remember the exact details or what it was I lied about. I think you were driving. I said something stupid and inconsequential like I love rain. While we were having our meal, I said something exactly opposite (I don’t really remember what either thing was) I hate rain. You paused and looked at me and took it in. And in the moment, I said to myself, what the hell is wrong with you(me)? I knew you looked at me and I felt pretty certain that you realized I just lied and I felt horrible. The only thing I could come up with is that I was so out of my comfort zone that my brain was imploding. I don’t just get into a car and drive across the state line to have lunch and I was nervous about the whole thing. So if you remember that, I am not a psychopath (too much) but it was just some weird brain anomaly.

    And so to make this just a little bit more about myself (sorry), what you see, is usually pretty much what you get with me. I like you and never want to stop being friends with you so if anything ever seems weird or off (and you still want to be friends with me) never hesitate to ask.

    I find you endlessly fascinating and think you are a wonderful person. It hurts my heart that you endured significant pain growing up. I think you make this world a better place.

    Anyway, so while I don’t often examine others’ behavior and motives, it also means I don’t think about mine a lot either. This is a good reminder that I should check myself every so often and maybe be a little more self-aware. You would have given a much better lecture.

    1. I am going to say something that may sound just totally bizarre. You brought tears to my eyes just because of the sheer love and honesty that was in your comment.

      There is a difference when people pop out something that is just filler conversation because they are uncomfortable. Everyone does that in small ways. It holds the same weight as someone who says I like your new haircut when what they want to say is, you really looked better before.

      You are one of the most genuine people I know, good & bad, it’s all real, and that’s more important than anything. On my bad days, and in my former personality I was the queen of artifice. Nothing about me was real. I never let anyone see the real personality. Having kids changed that for me. I loved them without restraint or artifice and found out it was okay, no one came and hurt me for it. Smartest thing I ever did for me, was have my children.

      This guy only talked about how other peoples moods and feelings affected him, and how people should learn not to take on other peoples feelings as their own. I suspect he uses this as an excuse for his own bad behaviors, and that’s just not cool.

  2. 😀 No, that didn’t sound bizarre at all. Not that I have ever been a closed book, I am endeavoring to be so open that there are no illusions or misunderstandings. It seems like it would just make life much easier.

    Good. I have been worried about it since it happened and it seemed like such a bizarre thing and I didn’t know how to approach or explain it.

    It is amazing how children change your life. I totally respect if people don’t want children because let’s face it,some people really shouldn’t but children can change so much and force a person to really see things through new eyes. I would have really disliked my mom if I hadn’t had kids but having kids really helped me understand her.

    Ah, I totally understand how events and emotions of others affects a person. And yes, if a person is prone to that, you really have to be careful and not let that become an excuse for bad behavior.

  3. I wanted to say that I loved this blog. Very well written and thought out. A challenge to my brain to think.

  4. Totally on the mark post! It’s a bravo post! I think the older I get the more I realize that the person I have become is a result of where I’ve been!

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