This is the sixth of 10 weekly reading assignments and kind action recommendations using the book “The Power of Kindness” as inspiration.
Reading: Read the chapter called “Empathy”
As I’ve been encouraging you to do in some way each week, be relaxed and warm when you do your reading. See this reading as an act of kindness for yourself.
Kind Action: Put Yourself in Another Person’s Place
The concept for this kind action is described toward of the end of the chapter when Ferrucci introduces Laura Huxley and her book “You Are Not the Target.” He writes, “After we have had a difficulty with someone important in our life, we relive the episode, identifying with the other.”
That’s the idea for this week, trying to see a conflict or difficult situation from the perspective of the other, someone important to you. In doing this, please take time to write down your reactions and thoughts.
Additionally, and in the spirit of imagining what it would be like to feel what someone else is feeling, consider who you’d like to try being if you weren’t you. Imagine being this person for a day or longer. What are the qualities or circumstances that draw you to this person? What is the first thing you’d do as this person? In contemplating this, does anything surprise you about the experience?
I wanted to share my experience with this week’s topic. Being a writer, I notice that I can already imagine the other person’s POV, though it is more difficult in an oppositional situation – where it’s easy for me to become defensive. Partly my defensiveness comes from having grown up in a family situation with a lot of conflict and where I felt vulnerable in my home on a daily basis. But we all feel defensive when we think we’re being attacked, or at least not heard or understood. Anyway, I took the time this week to write down what the other person in a difficult situation might have been thinking or feeling. I was frustrated with this person because I felt she was trying to “one-up” me instead of expressing support and enthusiasm (which I was trying to do for her). When I wrote out her imagined feelings (“I have no one to see how awesome I am!” or “I’ll tell Theresa about my similar accomplishments so she’ll know we’re in this together”) I was surprised that it made a “story” in this person’s mind. A story that was not, “Let me see how bad I can make Theresa feel.” – And that was a new experience which helped ameliorate the frustration and disappointment I felt during our encounter. That said, I’m still not sure I want to continue a relationship with this person, but the exercise was something I learned from.
I really love Ferrucci’s final (long) paragraph on p. 145, where you imagine a relationship in it’s “pure state” – without judgment, spite, comparison, etc. I believe this is a fair goal or intention to keep in mind. I think “intention” is apt because in some cases it’s a longer journey to get there than in others, as with this person I am describing above. I was perceiving so many layers in her self-rationalizations that it will be hard for me to have a “pure” relationship with her, I think. But having the intention, I can strive for transparency, for warmth, for empathy, rather than closing down and grumbling about her seeming competitiveness and lack of empathy for me. Which is better, in the long run!
Finally, I really enjoyed the exercise about imagining we were another person we admire. This was a real treat. Except … I had a hard time thinking of someone at first. I think that’s because I’ve been doing some mindfulness work and this kindness course, recently, and it’s helped me realize the wonderful things in my own life. But at last I hit upon Maya Angelou, who I admire for her boldness and her influence and her lyrical poetry. At the same time, what surprised me was a sudden realization that if I were another person, it would mean taking on all their sorrows and painful experiences as well as the wonderful achievements they have had. So, in the end I decided, I’d rather be myself and have my own life, not another’s life. This surprised me, as I often have wished I could be a more successful writer or a more well-recognized creative person. Hmmm.