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The Barefoot family live an easy, relaxed life together playing, pottering and doing whatever feels right at the time!

Friday, 25 January 2013

Can you teach empathy?

Have been pondering on empathy today. So many things in the last year have happened to me which I have witnessed or listened to others experiencing. And I have listened. And tried to imagine how they must feel. But really is there anyway of ever learning true empathy without first experiencing something first hand?
It's such an admiral trait and something often on the list of things we'd all most like our children to display but is that really even possible! They could surely be compassionate or caring but can they ever have empathy? I remember discussing this with my brother in law once as we took the girls out for a day out together by the lakes. He was describing how proud he was of his daughter, how caring she was and how much empathy she had for others. How he thought she might be a teacher, or doctor or nurse one day. He was genuinely taken aback at my honesty at my feelings that my daughter wasn't any of those things really and sometimes it worried me a bit but mostly, I just accepted she wasn't like that yet, or maybe even ever. Of course, she is upset at seeing others upset, she wants everyone to be happy, she tries to make things better but she also just gets on with things, in a oh well its happened style.
For me, it was only when I actually had stress, anxiety about a situation for a few weeks this summer that I really saw that it meant to be like my husband who feels very anxious with certain new, unknown situations. As this is something that I've just never felt the nerves, the sleepless nights about something, fast heart and fluttering stomach for days at a time, I'd never seen how it must be to actually regularly feel like that. I called my sister, who has a well balanced understanding of natural health, conventional medicine and most of all of me. I described how ill I was, how unusual it was for me, how I was wondering if it could be this or that...she just quietly listened on the end of the line and at the end just said 'its stress'. Of course it was. Why didn't I see that? I'd have noticed it instantly in another person. Suddenly I felt terrible about how dismissive I had been over the years at my husbands reaction to this debilitating disease taking over my body and mind. I'd never been mean about it but I had expected him to try to manage it more. Now I  knew.
This wasn't the first time lately it has happened. Strikingly similar scenerios have evolved for me that have happened to those around me who I had some unknown til that moment deep buried guilt that I could have done more to help with or provided a more comforting ear. It's a scary thought too to think I've now opened the door to as worrying that everything heavy or difficult that happens to others is a test on me somehow. If I don't support or care for them enough will this happen to me in some weird karma twist of fate all to teach me some lesson?
I think a healthier, more helpful way of approaching it will be for me instead to start thinking, what would I feel like in that situation? What would I need if that happened to me? And then considering what I could realistically and reliably offer. I'm a get on with it kinda gal. I'm private and pretty self contained and as such struggle sometimes to appreciate that not everyone is like that, and that in fact its a good job they aren't.
Ponder/ramble over. For now anyway. Back to focusing on learning from and improving life with this reflection, one of my resolutions was to say goodbye to guilt....time to start waving and keep it simple, just remember to love others.

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