Friday, October 30, 2015

From The Grave: On Empathy 1

How apropos for me to rise from the blogging grave to post on Halloween weekend. For the record, I have 17 started, but not completed blog posts in my profile right now.  To the people who have emailed, tweeted and Facebook messaged me asking if I am ok, if I will continue to write etc: THANK YOU! I know we don't blog, post etc. for the notoriety (at least the people who are good at what they do certainly don't) so it really means a lot to me that people have taken notice of my absence in the diabetes online community space.

As I get older, and hopefully wiser, I think the most incredible and resilient people in my life are those who hold the capacity to have boundless empathy. This is a quality in a person that I find incredibly attractive and endearing. If someone shows they have a capacity to lend empathy in extremely difficult conversations and situations, I find myself wanting to know that person more.

In a world that we can carefully craft our social bubbles, and lessen our risk of being exposed to negative thoughts and feelings, I think that when we step outside our curated circles the blows hit harder.
Empathy is the experience of understanding another person's condition from their perspective. You place yourself in their shoes and feel what they are feeling. Empathy is known to increase prosocial (helping) behaviors.
A few years ago, as I started my journey of actually being happy with who I am and the body I am in, I began to realize that there are people who lack the skill to see past their own experiences and empathize with others. I began to realize that there were people who had an expanded capacity for empathy.

This isn't a hard skill we are taught on a daily basis. I think it's one we observe and slowly incorporate in to our lives.

How does this fall in to life with diabetes?

Well, it IS life with diabetes. If you're a parent of a child with diabetes you are constantly trying to take a walk in those children's shoes and remove the "burden" of diabetes from them. When we are living with a chronic illness we are constantly told "Well it could be worse." We are berated daily with companies that lack the basic human skill of empathy to realize that while other illnesses are indeed worse, this one still sucks.

How can we become more resilient towards the lack of empathy shown by the media, by our healthcare teams, by our own families and friends?

Empathize.

Walk in their shoes.

If someone tells you "at least it's not cancer" try and understand where this came from. Try and see how another person's reality has shaped their thought process. We expect everyone to be able to empathize with us, living this life day in and day out-but really how can we break the invisible "but you don't know it" barrier down?

We don't expect to know what someone is feeling like, or the basic nuanced inappropriate comments towards people with cancer, or asthma or any other of the myraid of illnesses.

Share your experiences, but be conscious of the fact that if someone on the other side of the conversation says that something is offensive to them and their experiences-thank them for sharing that and be mindful of how you speak and react in the future.

We can all learn to have a better capacity of empathy. It will help us.