Are You Apathetically Empathetic? - Grasshopper
The question almost seems like a contradiction in terms Ė Apathetic: ďDonít care,Ē Empathetic: ďFeeling anotherís pain
If I donít care about you, how can I possibly sense your pain? I have an answer, at least one that works for me.
I believe we all do sense one anotherís pain, but some of us unconsciously block the sensation to avoid the pain. We, who block, have been conditioned to do so. So if I donít sense your pain, the conclusion you may come to about me is that I donít care enough about you.
Thatís not even close to the truth.
I believe that many of us have been conditioned not to care, but that doesnít mean the capacity is not there. The ďBaby BoomersĒ have been conditioned to be the ďMeĒ generation. One of the best selling books of the 70s underscores my assertion Ė Looking Out For Number One.
So to care about me, I canít care about you seems to be the misperception we are under. I am one of the first people to respond when someone asks for help, yet I rarely inquire if you need help. That, on first blush, may make me seem apathetic. I know, in the past, I have used that label to describe my behavior that way.
Yet when I offer help and receive a heartfelt ďthank you,Ē I rarely, if ever, take the message inside and feel it. My guess is that if I do that, I will sense the pain I helped alleviate.
Iím sure there are people who just donít care and are incapable of empathy but I donít think too many of us fall into that category. I think most of us do care, but for some of us, expressing that care opens us up to pain Ė something weíve spent most of our life avoiding.
So staying stoic spares you the pain of empathy. Itís probably a useful pattern to have if youíre an emergency room doctor but, outside of that, it has you come off as uncaring and unfeeling.
Start to notice what you say you donít care about and then notice if youíre declaring that to avoid the pain that caring may bring.
A good start is to stop expressing what you donít care about. Focus rather on the things you do care about and begin to feel what caring feels like for you. Once you explore and invite in caring feelings, you expand capacity to care.
You can remain apathetically empathetic, keeping your caring and feelings blocked or you can begin exploring what you care about.
I can tell you that caring and empathy make you feel more alive and more connected. That alone should be reason enough to explore them.
Have the courage to declare what you care about and open yourself up to what others are feeling. Itís an elixir that makes you feel more alive and itís one that money canít buy.
All the best,John
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