The aim of Empathy injection to share the ‘tools of empathy’. It’s very confusing in the media and scientific research what Empathy even is. Some researchers talk about Cognitive empathy (ability to imagine what life might be like for someone) and Affective empathy (ability to feel what the other person is feeling)
I draw on the Nonviolent Communication understanding of empathy; empathy is allowing space for the other person to feel what they are feeling, so they can get clarity, so they make changes to improve things.
Some people take on feelings and experiences of other people very easily, that is not the aim of this kind of Empathy. If that happens to you, make sure you hold yourself, imagine a protecting power holding your back so that whatever comes in, can go out again. You could also say to yourself as you listen to someone else “I take what is mine and leave what is yours.”
Often we don’t know what we are feeling, we don’t know what we are needing. It takes some reflection to discover this. It’s really like holding up a mirror to what the person is saying. “I’m hearing you say this …”. It’s important to be aware of interpretations and your own feelings. Don’t reflect back “I’m hearing you say (this) and (this) is your own stuff/interpretations/feelings”
It’s very important that the spotlight of an empathic conversation is on one person, rather than bouncing about all over the place as it does in regular conversations, which results in not much listening really happening, just a lot of talking in the vague hope of being heard.
Agreeing to talk for a limited amount of time each might seem a bit artificial and controlling, but this time boundary can be very supportive in having an effective conversation with more listening happening. Active listening can be very demanding so you can’t do this for hours on end! Agreeing to listen to someone with intent for 10 or 15 mins can be hugely effective in getting to the bottom of an issue. (See my ABC of Empathic Listening for more on Allowing, Boundaries and Connection when listening)
How to practice Reflective listening:
(To listen without own thoughts and feelings getting in the way of the speaker’s important process of self-discovery)
I’m hearing you say …
What I heard you say is …
Do not skimp on the Reflective listening.
How to utilise the Boundary of feelings and needs:
Use the energy of curiosity to guess, rather than say the following in a ‘diagnostic’ way.
Are you feeling upset because you’re needing communication and respect?
(to get out of the habit of linking your feelings with whatever someone has or hasn’t done eg “I’m feeling upset because you didn’t call.”)
How to give Feedback to someone when you are listening to them:
When someone talks to you, things gets triggered and stimulated for you, usually as positive or negative judgements. This is real, unavoidable, and there could well be important information in this for the person speaking.
Always ask permission before you give feedback, ask a question or share something from you.
“Something’s coming for me and I’m wondering if you are open to hearing it?”
“I’m telling myself you’re probably not gonna like this, would you still like to hear it?”
Asking permission gives the person a little bit of time to prepare themselves to hear.
Always follow feedback with this question “What happens to you when you hear that?”
There will then be more opportunity for Reflective listening and Feelings and Needs guesses because other stuff will come up.
I acknowledge Maria Arpa’s work around Giving Feedback. Maria does excellent 3 day trainings in her application of Nonviolent Communication which she calls the Dialogue Road Map. https://www.centreforpeacefulsolutions.org/
Over the summer, I was sitting by the side of the boating pond in Greenwich park. My son and a friend were happily pedalling in their boat and my attention was drawn to another boat with 5 children in it between the ages of 7 and 11. There was also an older group of teenage boys on the side of the pond opposite me, who were throwing green pond slime at this boat of children, who were beginning to raise their voices and squeal a little in response to this.
I noticed the voices in my head that stopped me from stepping in “Who am I say anything? These children must have adults around here. There are also the young men running the boats, why aren’t they doing anything? The bigger kids are just playing ... it’s a bit of boisterous, roughhousing play.”
I know what I could have said, that’s the fairly easy part. I could have checked with the children on the boat if they were enjoying this game? And if I’d got a “No!”, I could have shouted at the bigger kids “The children in the boat are not happy with this game. And I want everyone to enjoy themselves and play safely. Can you stop throwing slime?”
And if it needed more, I could have brought myself and the context in more “I feel anxious watching this, I’m worried that someone could end up splatted with slime, or even fall off the boat. I want everyone to be enjoying their time around this lake.”
The thing was I didn’t say anything. So why didn’t I?
It seems that I didn’t have clarity about my role in this situation. In a world that wants to separate us from each other, neighbour from neighbour, country from country, continent from continent, somehow I have bought into that story that “It’s not my place. There is someone else whose role this is.”
But it was me who saw the children on the boat. I was an observer; actually I was the only aware person there. Isn’t that reason enough to speak? Suddenly, I see that I could have slipped into the role of ‘guardian’ temporarily. Those children could have experienced an advocate who clearly was seeing them, and who cared to speak up for them.
I can see that I was believing society’s prescription around separation of role and that only people with the correct authority to intervene can do so. I’m wondering if, to debunk this myth, I can hold and cultivate the consciousness of what I most clearly am (aware, caring, observing) with a higher level of value than what society ascribes to this (interfering? nosy? domineering?) I will see if it encourages me to move in direction of stepping in, without me employing ‘should’ and ‘have to’ to motivate myself, which is what I’ve been employing in my life until now, without much efficacy.
I acknowledge the empathic support of Show (Shougen Horoiwa)in helping me get clarity around this, which is another form of nonviolent input in my life.
Written for the Blogging Carnival for Nonviolence 2016 http://www.instantblogsubscribers.com/entry/Zhana21/287256/The+Blogging+Carnival+for+Nonviolence+2016
Demobilising the hatred
The carnage from Orlando is still sinking in and I am still resonating with the search within me of how the bigger picture could look as we walk towards greater peace, and yesterday Jo Cox MP was killed, and I send waves of grounded and holding love and kindness to her husband, her family, her community as they reel in the shock of this horrific death, sending peace to Jo as she moves on and thanks for all her work for her and our community and country.
And I hear on the radio “We have to fight against the hate that killed Jo Cox” and I question this ‘fighting’ and I question this ‘against’, in the context of how I am receiving and investigating Rabbi Michael Lerner’s article.
I will follow this up with more writing on what it takes to ‘empathise with the enemy’ and what I imagine to be the resources and support needed to do so (don’t do it alone ….)
Snippets from Rabbi Michael Lerner’s (RML) response to the Orlando Massacre. (Full article here http://www.tikkun.org/nextgen/grieving-for-orlando-for-glbtq-for-muslims-for-america) My comments added.(CB)
RML:We will not let any sector of “us” get scared that the rest of us will abandon them. Just as I said at Muhammed Ali’s funeral that Jews will stand with Muslims in the face of growing Islamophobia (all the more needed now that some politicians are trying to use the horror of the mass murder of members of the LGBTQ community in Orlando by a supposedly Muslim young man to justify repression against Muslims). We will not let any of them become an “acceptable” target for the haters. Not the LGBTQ community, not anyone.
“We are one global “we,” and we must never let any part of us become the target that is somehow made a “legitimate” target.”
CB: WHAT DOES THIS LOOK LIKE … TO NOT LET THIS HAPPEN?, that we observe when a community or group or individual is being isolated and step towards them …?
RML:“But true solidarity needs to go beyond standing with the victims of hate crimes, including, homophobia, Islamophobia, racism, anti-Semitism, sexism, xenophobia and all the other variants of hatred. True solidarity should guide us to the imperative to develop strategies to heal the distortions and pains that lead people into communities of hate.”
CB: HOW DO WE HEAL THE DISTORTIONS THAT LEAD PEOPLE INTO COMMUNITIES OF HATE? Does this involve looking at the needs people are meeting when they step into a community of hate …. Belonging, community, acceptance … and then consider how we catch their attention to attract them out of that community .. possibly with … belonging, community, acceptance of the humanity of the person, even if we do not accept the actions this person is involved in.
“Our strategies must separate the hateful behavior from the pain in people that underlies their misdirected rage, and sometimes violent actions. We must develop ways to speak to those deep psychic wounds and hurts, and show people that there are better and more effective strategies to deal with those pains than to act them out on others, whether that acting out be in the form of demeaning, raping, making war against others, or in the form of mass politics of hatred.”
CB: HOW DO WE SPEAK TO THE DEEP PSYCHIC WOUNDS AND HURTS? Do we commit to witnessing and acknowledging the deep psychic wounds and hurts a person involved in hate communities and actions has experienced? How do we gain the trust of these people in the first place? In my exploration of Empathy, I witness empathy as being equated with being ‘Nice’ yet, empathy, the physical manifestation of the state of compassion is not about being nice. It is possible to exercise empathy when tussling with extreme internal fear. Empathy is seen as being ineffective and I guess we have not practiced enough, as a human species, a radical form of empathy that includes those who are radically other to us or who do things we think are dangerous or whose actions harm us.
Within Nonviolent Communication (NVC) the practice that informs my approach to empathy, there is a strategy for empathizing with the enemy, called Dissolving Enemy Images. Here is my version of the practice.
Transforming judgements and enemy images
I must admit, I quite enjoyed Celia Brooks’ description of me. It was at the beginning of our collaboration at the Demo Kitchen at Borough Market on Friday 27th May 2016, when she was cooking up some wild food I had found locally. We were both in conversation about the ingredients and how to cook them and she introduced me to the gathering crowd as ‘a Mistress of Wild Food’.
Whenever I receive the label ‘Expert’ in wild food, I have to say I’m not. Because I really am not. There’s so much I don’t know, I don’t know latin names, if you can’t eat it, I don’ t know it. I really know my 30-40 plants and that’s about it. I’ve always said on the Invisible Food foraging project that I share my learning, not my knowledge …. I want to learn something … want to come too?
After publishing and spreading the word about my book Street Food: Urban Foraging and World Food in 2013/14, I thought my time on this project was almost up, as I wanted to dedicate time to working with Communication, conflict and mediation, but this year I have been asked to do a few walks and feasts (At Soundcamp and at Borough Market) and I so completely enjoyed them both, that I remembered why I spent 6 years working full time on this project. So these are, once again, 5 reasons I love Urban Foraging.
Having recounted all of that, I still don’t know why the word ‘Mistress’ made me stop momentarily, I don’t know why the word ‘Mistress’ seems to fit, when the word expert absolutely doesn’t. Maybe it’s something to do with ‘letting myself go’ with the plants … a convergence … a surrender … a union …? . How Celia Brooks knew all of that is also a wonder. But I’m happy that, after 8 years of urban foraging, the blackberries are still there to lose myself in.
(Well … mid July I reckon, this year, in London)
The Empathy Injection workshop series is influenced by Dan Siegel’s work on Mindsight, which he defines as the way we see and shape the mind to make it stronger.
Wellbeing depends on the ability of one person to be available to the internal world of another, whether that’s a parent to a child, one friend to another, or on a wider scale, of organisations and authorities seeing and recognising the internal world of the people.
This is the ability to be empathic. Those who don’t look to the internal world of someone else, tend not to look at it in themselves. They don’t have the ability to see themselves with empathy, to have compassion for themselves in times of hardship. They can be just as harsh on themselves as they seem to be on other people.
When you empower your mind to focus your mind in a certain way, you can strategically change the structure of the brain. Fifteen years ago, this was heresy in the field of neuroscience. Now we know the brain is constantly forming. It never stops. This is neuroplasticity. The mind can change the brain.
This is all very well, but how do we marry this with a focus for social change that attempts to stop the suffering and inequality raging over the globe. How can we sharpen and focus our minds not only to see the internal world of the other but also to stand in the way of systems that don’t?
The focus of Empathy Injection is on interpersonal relationships but with the acknowledgement that we are all part of a bigger picture and that interpersonal relationships become very tricky because of inequality between men and women, different economic and racial backgrounds, amongst other factors, as well as attendant trauma related to this inequality.
If you are interested in the issues here, I wholeheartedly welcome you to come to Coffee, Cake and Kisses beginning on 21st March 2016 6.30 – 9pm and / or to share the upcoming writings here to help me publicise these events.
Sending warmth from my inner world to your inner world.