Keep Calm … and Practice Empathy!

Sandy leaves central Brooklyn untouched. CCC’s office in Stuyvesant Heights, Brooklyn was thankfully unaffected by the recent Hurricane. However, many of our friends in the rest of Brooklyn, Queens, Staten Island, Manhattan, and New Jersey are still without power.

Watching the massive grassroots responses of local folks providing goods, cleaning supplies, food, and labor help to folks whose homes have been left in the dark or even destroyed by the recent hurricane, we are thinking about what it means to give. [ps: If you’re interested in volunteering or donating, we’re impressed with the effective, grassroots community organizations listed here that are helping fellow New Yorkers around the City: http://interoccupy.net/occupysandy/]

Even when we have little, we can always give something—-even if it’s a helping hand, a smile, or, empathy. It’s one of those things that we don’t have to collect in order to have an abundance to give away—in fact, the more we give away, the more we have! Empathic listening offers a powerful example of abundance and interdependence.

Think of things that are simple to replace, yet critical: giving blood to a blood bank can save a life, and  your body will just replace the plasma that you gave away.

Now apply that to our empathic selves: we have the opportunity to listen with care and empathy to those who we see suffering—-and giving to others in this way can actually increase our own happiness and well being. Usually in our culture we go towards pity or sympathy—feeling “bad” for someone or perhaps even guilty if we think we played a role in what happened (or were not impacted). Typically, we can also go into strategy—focusing on what’s wrong and what’s to be fixed, based on our ideas and assessment.

Yet instead of allowing guilt or “shoulds” to cloud our thinking, we can be present to what is actually going on for others – not what we think is going on, or what we are telling ourselves our actions or responses should be about what’s going on. Once a person has been deeply heard, they can tap into their own internal resources and come up with strategies that work authentically and powerfully for them.

Have you been impacted by Sandy or other challenging events?
Was there someone who was just present and able to listen?
How did that make a difference for you?
How are you turning up for others in your life when they have a need for support and to be heard?

The next time someone you know or care about is facing a challenging situation, see if you can even just silently listen for their feelings and needs—and hold back from agreeing, disagreeing, fixing, or giving advice. How does your empathic presence make a difference for that person?

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