…and empathy too!

dontbeasnobThis is a response to a post by Julie Drybrough, so it might be useful to check out her post before reading on.  What I liked about her post and most of her posts is that it enlivened me and gave me an insight into what goes on for HER, rather than just blether about the “ten best whatevers” which most often leaves me with a sense of altschmertz, so I heartily recommend subscribing to her blog.  At the end of it, she invited people to respond in the spirit of critical thinking, but if I may have some license, I would like to respond in a spirit of loving collaboration and “building on”. As she implores herself to get out of her “bubble”, it’s so important for me, too, to expose myself to things which challenge me to think about myself and the perspectives I hold about the world, otherwise I am not entirely sure I would be of much good service to others.

At the risk of sounding like someone in her echo chamber and without a trace of irony, I agree with what she wrote.  And there is something I would like to add in.  She says, “In order to survive and thrive, I’d argue critical thinking has more value than many of the leadership/management models we throw out in courses.” I’d like to add empathy into that. I think that without empathy, critical thinking might just remain that: critical. I hope, really I do HOPE, that we as a civilisation have reached “peak selfishness” and that we might be on the cusp of actually learning that there are more in the world than just “me” or “me and my ethnic group” or “me and my buddies who think the same as me” or “me and the people who echo me back so I can feel good about what I have constructed”, you get the picture.

Critical thinking is one thing, an incredibly valuable thing (which goes on far too little). And I would like humanity to move beyond taking an opposing view and being able to criticise, or merely to be girding ourselves to be amongst opposing views. Opposing views are not necessarily things we need to be able to counter or argue against, even if in our heart of hearts we KNOW them to be “wrong” (though I know from my own work experience that sometimes they ARE just wrong). One of the things that echoes from my counselling training is that everyone makes sense to themselves.  Hard as I try sometimes, I just can’t see the sense of a view someone else is holding. I think it takes conscious effort to extend our efforts beyond empathy and to try to understand why what someone else is espousing could make complete sense.  In fact, even the people who have done the most abhorrent things make sense to themselves; they are still humans trying to meet their human needs.  If we can begin to find ways to let others know that we acknowledge that they make sense, we can, I believe, help to reduce the propensity for all of us to go to fight-flight-freeze.  From there, we might begin to have constructive conversations that challenge everyone to open up their thinking and come up with new solutions to things which have got us stuck.  Again, from my own work experience, until I was able to find out how some folks made sense to themselves, I wasn’t able to meet them and companion them on the changes they knew they had to make in their lives.

As Julie says, we are living in times of intolerance and stuckness. I think the next thing for us to do is not to tolerate, though; I think it is to role reverse, to accept and to value. If I don’t, I may miss out on the opportunity for some crappy idea of mine to be forged into something bigger and better that what I could have done on my own.  I may miss the opportunity for my viewpoint (which may have become ossified by living too long in an echo chamber) to soften, to shift or to expand.  I may miss something which, within the rules of my own personal game, seems counter-intuitive and too easily dispensed with.  I may continue to be afflicted by the asymmetric insight which we all go about our lives with, unexamined. As much as it pains me sometimes, I can recognise when some public figure that would normally make my blood boil says something “good” and insightful that I hadn’t heard before (even a broken clock is right twice a day, I will concede).

Getting out of the bubble seems an emphatically urgent thing to do, given the times in which we live. Churchill is quoted as saying, “We shape our buildings; thereafter, our buildings shape us,” which, to me, points to the reflexive nature of the bubbles we inhabit. Yes, it’s important that we surround ourselves with people who mirror us back, helping us to see and celebrate our identities, giving us a sense of belonging, places where we can have fun. When does the line get crossed when that social atom loses diversity and it tends to enforcement of a more rigid set of values, beliefs and knowledge? As you say, the one who cries, “But the Emperor is wearing no clothes!” is not just silenced…they aren’t even there.  Entropy ensues.

I heard someone, somewhere, last year encouraging people to make a third of the people they follow on Twitter, people whose views challenge their own view of the world, just to get out of the bubble Julie describes and it seemed like an exciting idea. Not sure if I’m bold enough for that just yet, but if I can share a wee promise I made to myself at the beginning of the year, I have told myself to find places where I can expose myself to people (not in that way!) whom I would not normally come into contact with in the course of my day-to-day. I have found that since returning to the UK two-and-a-half years ago from living in New Zealand for 17 years and, in some senses, reinventing myself, I have felt rejuvenated, in the original sense of the word and this has helped me, in some strange kind of way, find more parts of myself that I was perhaps a stranger to or frightened of. It might be enlivening to perhaps be amongst some of those folks who do hold what I might call a fearful, expedient or short-term view of things, to find out how they make sense to themselves and see what may come of that. We all, in the end, have to coexist on this planet and I for one would hate if that meant we had to eventually come to some to sort of uniform groupthinkspeak, having argued some of the planet’s inhabitants into submission, in order for coexistence to occur.

4 thoughts on “…and empathy too!

  1. Beautifully said, John. I very much enjoyed your exploration related to Julie Drybrough’s post. It’s clear this notion of “reversal” — our capacity to move deeply into another’s inner logic and feeling and spirit — is core to you and your work. It feels like such rich territory of experience, experience being what actually seems to change and illuminate us, yet it is also sometimes very difficult to verbalize, insight often having a strongly non-verbal component. I love hearing your thoughts on the nature and experience of reversal as transformational.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s