I have been seeing a lot on the internet lately about compassion and empathy, about empathy and sympathy. That makes me happy. I’ve been reading Judy Cannato’s Field of Compassion, which posits that these times we are living in are marked by a new upwelling of compassion energy. And that makes me happy, too.
Today I looked again at that little cartoon video that accompanies Brene Brown’s TED talk on empathy and sympathy. I love in-depth semantic discussions, the sharp and precise clarification of terms, and part of what I like so much about Brene Brown’s work is that she gives us precise language for feelings. It’s like those feelings charts that people sometimes use for helping children understand their emotions, but on an adult scale.
So I do not intend to critique Brown’s view of empathy and sympathy here, really. Nor yours, either. But it struck me that part of what is moving about the presence of the Bear in the video (go up there and click that link and watch it now, please) is just that: his Presence. He witnessed the Little Rabbit’s pain, and when the Rabbit fell in the hole, he climbed right down in there with her. Aside from the label of his approach as empathetic rather than sympathetic, he was Present. He gave her the gift of witnessing her pain.
I haven’t had much experience in my life of terrible pain and trauma, but in the places and times when I have been hurting, I know that empathy was a great help when it was genuine. “I know how you feel,” can feel like a great comfort, or a violation: How dare you presume to know how I feel? “When I went through this. . . ” can be a relief to hear (You walked this road and you survived!) or it can be patronizing. Sometimes a sympathetic “That must be so hard” is as refreshingly Present as an empathetic “I know how it is.”
I wish I could say I get it right all the time, this business of being Present, being a Compassionate Witness. It’s hard to be awake enough to one’s self and the Universe to know how to muddle through this bog of the heart. It’s a challenge to be present when the Little Rabbit is lashing out in her sadness. I love that the meta-conversations lead us into the discussion. I’m grateful for the people, like Brown, who are working at the semantics, drawing us all to a deeper understanding of the compassionate heart.
1. The sweet, soft brush marks of wings on the snow
2. Satisfying mechanical tools: my apple peeler corer slicer, for example; an efficient non-electric tool that does its job well.
3. The way Jon hums to himself all day as he’s doing his daily tasks
4. Two people whom I love a great deal were in an ice-related traffic accident this morning, and emerged mostly unharmed. I am so grateful that injuries were relatively minor, and hope for a speedy and complete recovery from the aches.
5. Napping. This afternoon, as I was dozing off for a much-needed nap, a small person of the house came and snuggled up beside me and fell asleep too.
May we walk in Beauty.