“A candle loses nothing by lighting another candle.”
Two weeks ago, I wrote about Individual Empathy and how to use it well without burning out. Last week I covered Collective Empathy. This week, let’s broaden that circle one more time and consider Community Empathy.
I frequently hear very caring people say that they really don’t like people. I get that. Because they do care about people, they have a hard time tolerating people who hurt other people. They dislike humans because they love humans. See it?
When a caring person sees another being harmed, they either feel the sting of it, (individual empathy,) or kick their self-protections into gear to avoid feeling it. (Seriously, if that’s you, please read the individual empathy blog.)
I Love New York
New Yorkers are notorious for demonstrating the latter. It’s fairly normative for people on the streets of New York City to swear at, demean, berate or otherwise verbally attack other humans when they perceive that said human has done something unacceptable to another person. This has earned them a reputation as being rude and nasty.
At the same time, look at what sets them off. They aren’t typically rude for the sake of selfish rudeness, (>COUGHCOUGHCOUGHCHICAGOCOUGHCOUGH.<) New Yorkers get rude in order to protect the wellbeing of the community.
You doubt me? Take even half a glance at the response of New Yorkers to 9/11. Especially in the very worst of times, a New Yorker will call you out of your name 200 ways to Sunday, while literally running into a collapsing building to drag you out.
That empathy might come wrapped in barbed wire, but it is both fierce and faithful. Things are not always what they seem.
Why are some people so hard and nasty when they are trying to care for others? It might have something to do with the ego-centric nature of cultural norms in the United States.
We live in a country that was built on proud individualism that spins on a demanding, fictional hierarchy of humans. Everything from parking spots to political debates demand that we compete to be The Best, The Biggest, The Most. “Me over You.” Demonstrating overt mutuality, respect and empathy can get one gobbled up like a dot in PacMan’s path. It’s against the unwritten rules.
The Natural State of a Human
Throughout my life, I’ve watched some people shift from being sensitive and thoughtful to becoming self-consumed and unkind. Very often it seems to be a response to being harmed for that same sensitivity, whether by the culture at large, community systems like schools or sports teams, or by family/friends. In those conditions, some people recoil, some people lash out, and many do both. We tend to stick with whichever response felt most effective to protect us in childhood.
Some people become more tender; some become less. Most people do start off with empathy. In fact, as mentioned in the individual empathy blog, it’s crucial for survival. However, as long as our society continues to demand that we dominate one another, community empathy will continue to elude us.
Anybody Up for a Revolution?
What if we topple the whole ego-fragile competition thing and aim instead for empathy, mutuality and respect? The hierarchy is fueled by an illusion of scarcity. There are plenty of resources! When we buy into the lie of scarcity we get selfish; We take much more than we need, leaving too little for others.
Picture the toilet paper aisle of a grocery store when the weather forecast predicts snow. It’s not empty because there wasn’t enough toilet paper. It’s empty because scared people bought enough toilet paper to last a year instead of a snowy week. They feel pressured to “beat everyone to” the resources and create scarcity unnecessarily.
I covered this a while back in the blog, “Want, or Need.” I mentioned the saying, common in many Native American cultures that goes, “Take what you need. Give what you have. Live in harmony; Not competition.” That kind of living is only possible when community members exercise community empathy. It requires that the majority of the people value the majority of the people, and remain considerate of the whole community’s needs instead of being consumed exclusively with their own. Just as with collective empathy, community empathy recognizes that all things have impact on all things.
Often when we do help one another, we do it with an expectation of reciprocity. That’s inside out and counter productive. I don’t butter your bread because I expect you to butter mine; I butter your bread because you are a human with a need; Your bread needed buttering, and I have butter. If you share the same mindset, and have butter one day when I don’t, you might just choose to share your butter with me. I don’t expect it because I was once there for you. Remember, we are flushing the hierarchy and the insane competition with others. We are just humans looking out for one another when we can.
If there were a critical mass of people in a community that thought like that, there would be no butter shortage. Better still, we would also be a people who are no longer motivated by fear-driven greed. If we kept that up, we would probably need a whole lot fewer therapists. I’m good with that.
Are you feeling worn out by the illusionary hierarchy of humans? Contact Tiffany today. Let’s figure out a better way.