I had a strong emotional reaction to something recently.I was traveling on a bus with my family one weekend going to a mountain of snow for a day trip. As we got closer to the top of the mountain a man walked down the aisle to his seat at the front of the bus from where he had met some new friends at the rear. One of his new friends asked if he was coming tobogganing with them when they got off the bus. He said no that wouldn’t be a good idea for him. She insisted that he come, and what was his excuse? Her tone seemed to imply he was weak. He then explained that he had two metal rods in his back and some in his hands and a metal plate in his head. Instantly the woman replied in a loud voice that it was all in his head, that he would be fine tobogganing, and that he just needed the right attitude. She sounded so sure. But he didn’t get to explain, he just said ‘no thanks’, turned, and sat back down in his seat.
Even though I believe in the power of the mind to drive success or failure, to create happiness or unhappiness, this ‘all in the mind’ belief goes too far and it infuriates me. I thought about commenting, but then I thought I’m not here to lecture, and this guy looks like he can handle it. The man had a physical limitation that we on the bus did not know about. But this lady didn’t ask what it was. Maybe she didn’t want to spoil her good mood, I don’t know. I just think that by acknowledging others limitations and showing some empathy, we appreciate the things we have that many of us take for granted, like the ability to go tobogganing down a hill. And we also get a better chance at connecting emotionally with others. To believe that limitations are all in the mind is ridiculously false, and gets you off the hook of having to show empathy to anyone worse off than you. I wonder if this woman applies the same belief to herself and her family? That means whenever she can’t do something she either blames her mindset or doesn’t admit it. Or whenever a family member can’t do something, they are blamed for not having the right attitude? That wouldn’t show empathy or care, and creates unrealistic expectations that sabotage emotional connections. In being able to accept your strengths and weaknesses, and limitations, you can make the most of the talents you have.
And the emotional reaction I got in this situation has motivated me to write a book on how people connect. Simply put, you connect by identifying emotional needs in yourself and others, and satisfying them. The trick is to know what these needs are, to be able to recognise them, and to know how to satisfy them. I believe If you are open to it, you can learn to have more empathy, you can learn to connect better, and your life is richer for it. That is what my book will be about. Stay tuned, I’ll let you know when I finish writing it.
Leave me know your thoughts on empathy, or email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.