Tag Archives: Vulnerability

Teaching Empathy to Adults

Maybe you’ve already heard of him?

Dubbed “One of Britain’s leading lifestyle philosophers” by The Observer this chap has 436 links to his name in the newspaper’s search function (as of June 10th, 2015 anyway). They LOVE this guy. He’s the author of ~

And now, having reviewed some of his impressive body of work on empathy and more, I’m a wholehearted fan as well.

  • Q:   So, who IS this guy?
  • A:   Roman Krznaric
  • Q:   Why the fuss?
  • A:   Well, with regard to the subject of empathy – understanding it, seeing the relevance of it, noticing the historical sweep of it, fostering it, and teaching it – Mr. Roman Krznaric (pronounced Kruz-Na-Ric) rules the turf. It makes no sense for me to reinvent this wheel. Instead I’m going to do two simple things here today.
  1. Summarize Krznaric’s six habits of highly empathic people and link it to the original article published in The Daily Good.
  2. Embed a 20 minute You Tube video of Roman giving this talk for those who prefer visuals.

1. Six Habits of Highly Empathic People – abbreviated.

Habit 1: Cultivate curiosity about strangers “Cultivating curiosity requires more than having a brief chat about the weather. Crucially, it tries to understand the world inside the head of the other person. We are confronted by strangers every day, like the heavily tattooed woman who delivers your mail or the new employee who always eats his lunch alone. Set yourself the challenge of having a conversation with one stranger every week. All it requires is courage.”

Habit 2: Challenge prejudices and discover commonalities “We all have assumptions about others and use collective labels—e.g., “Muslim fundamentalist,” “welfare mom”—that prevent us from appreciating their individuality. HEPs challenge their own preconceptions and prejudices by searching for what they share with people rather than what divides them.”

Habit 3: Try another person’s life “So you think ice climbing and hang-gliding are extreme sports? Then you need to try experiential empathy, the most challenging—and potentially rewarding—of them all. HEPs expand their empathy by gaining direct experience of other people’s lives, putting into practice the Native American proverb, Walk a mile in another man’s moccasins before you criticize him.”

Habit 4: Listen hard—and open up “There are two traits required for being an empathic conversationalist. One is to master the art of radical listening. “What is essential,” says Marshall Rosenberg, psychologist and founder of Non-Violent Communication (NVC), “is our ability to be present to what’s really going on within—to the unique feelings and needs a person is experiencing in that very moment.” HEPs listen hard to others and do all they can to grasp their emotional state and needs, whether it is a friend who has just been diagnosed with cancer or a spouse who is upset at them for working late yet again. But listening is never enough. The second trait is to make ourselves vulnerable. Removing our masks and revealing our feelings to someone is vital for creating a strong empathic bond. Empathy is a two-way street that, at its best, is built upon mutual understanding—an exchange of our most important beliefs and experiences.”

Habit 5: Inspire mass action and social change “We typically assume empathy happens at the level of individuals, but HEPs understand that empathy can also be a mass phenomenon that brings about fundamental social change. Just think of the movements against slavery in the 18th and 19th centuries on both sides of the Atlantic. As journalist Adam Hochschild reminds us, “The abolitionists placed their hope not in sacred texts but human empathy,” doing all they could to get people to understand the very real suffering on the plantations and slave ships. Equally, the international trade union movement grew out of empathy between industrial workers united by their shared exploitation. The overwhelming public response to the Asian tsunami of 2004 emerged from a sense of empathic concern for the victims, whose plight was dramatically beamed into our homes on shaky video footage.”

Habit 6: Develop an ambitious imagination “A final trait of HEPs is that they do far more than empathize with the usual suspects. We tend to believe empathy should be reserved for those living on the social margins or who are suffering. This is necessary, but it is hardly enough. We also need to empathize with people whose beliefs we don’t share or who may be “enemies” in some way. If you are a campaigner on global warming, for instance, it may be worth trying to step into the shoes of oil company executives—understanding their thinking and motivations—if you want to devise effective strategies to shift them towards developing renewable energy. A little of this “instrumental empathy” (sometimes known as “impact anthropology”) can go a long way.”

If this whet your appetite for the full article, click → The Six Habits of Highly Empathic People.

2. Six Habits of Highly Empathic People – the movie.

FIRST TIME HERE?

This is the latest article in a year-long series on the “12-most-important-relationship-skills-no-one-ever-taught-me-in-school-but-I-sure-wish-they-had.”

Click the box for the full list.  Top 12 Relationship Skills

If you are interested in reading this blog in sequence, below are links to the series to date, beginning with the first posting at the top.

OVERVIEW

SKILLS FOR UNDERSTANDING

SKILL ONE ~ Recognize (and get to know) the many “yous.”

SKILL TWO ~ Learn how to be pro-active: choose how y’all show up.

 SKILL THREE ~ Accept (and get curious about) other peoples’ complexity

SKILLS FOR CONNECTING

SKILL FOUR ~ Master the Art of Conversation

SKILL FIVE ~ Learn How To Listen With Your Whole Self

SKILL SIX ~ Crack The Empathy Nut

The Purpose-Driven Life . . .

. . . OF OUR PARTS.

Welcome!

This is the fourth article in a year-long series about the “12-most-important-relationship-skills-no-one-ever-taught-me-in-school-but-I-sure-wish-they-did.”

Click the box for the full list →    →    →Top 12 Relationship Skills

January’s tip I’m guessing no one taught you in school is the idea that there’s not just one you. And in fact it really helps to recognize (and get to know) the many “yous.”

So far I’ve presented 2 of the 3 main ideas ~

  1. Each of us has a variety of ways of showing up. We have distinct inner Parts. See this post;
  2. Parts exist in relationship to one another. Tune into your inner chatter and you’ll hear one Part persuading or critiquing or judging or dismissing or ignoring or protecting another Part. See here:

This week? 

3. How and Why do our Parts relate?

Plus ~

  • How on earth does any of this help my relationships?
  • And, who’s really in charge of all these Parts?

************

HOW AND WHY DO OUR PARTS RELATE?

It can feel random when we first tune into our inner chatter and hear loads of contradictory messages, but each Part is absolutely acting purposefully, and when we come to see what their purpose is, everything shifts.

In any given moment our Parts are relating to one another, brokering how we show up. When things are going along reasonably well and there’s not too much external stress we can show up with access to our good feelings and (we hope) with the lid tightly shut on our bad feelings. Most of us walk a fine line between happiness and despair, or between confidence and embarrassment. We never know if something will trigger all those nasty feelings we’ve shoved away deep within, under the carpet of our inner basements.

Indeed, the purpose of our Parts has as much to do with managing our pain & shame as it does with the pursuit of happiness.

I’m going to paraphrase a bit here from Richard Schwartz (the founder IFS), and you’ll find much more about this in his book Internal Family Systems. We manage or inner system by organizing our Parts into three groups.
Screen shot 2015-01-28 at 9.18.52 AMMANAGERS – This group’s purpose is to be highly protective, strategic, and interested in controlling the environment to keep things safe. When things go well, these are the Parts we become most familiar with as important aspects of our personality. These are the “front men & women” who manage how we go through our days –  learning, growing, adapting, relating and scanning for danger. Freud would call these parts our Ego. Our managers can be balanced and kind, or forced by context and circumstances to be strict bullies within us.
Screen shot 2015-01-28 at 9.26.12 AM

EXILES – These are our shadow sides, exiled out of consciousness and out of the public eye because they’ve been tasked with holding onto (and burying deeply away) our pain, trauma, ugly beliefs, shame, unlovability, unworthiness, and not-good-enough-ness. Their purpose is to protect us from experiencing the emotional pain that has been inflicted upon us. When perfect little babies are born into an imperfect world, Exiles exist. Some of us have so much pain and suffering these highly vulnerable Parts can’t stay locked away and the person finds they have to relate to the world from a place of shame – which, paradoxically can be liberating and freeing (think AA meetings which begin with acknowledging something which, when hidden, we are ashamed of, but when shared, can be healed: “Hello, my name is X and I’m’ an alcoholic.”

Screen shot 2015-01-28 at 9.23.42 AMFIREFIGHTERS – This third group behaves like, well, firefighters! They are our first responders when there’s danger that an exile’s pain might be coming up. Their job is to react powerfully and automatically to stifle or sooth our shadow feelings. So – if we’re jilted by a lover and it triggers our deeply exiled sense of “not good-enough-ness” that we took on from critical or abusive parents, our firefighters step in and douse the feeling with highly distracting and often very damaging and extreme alternative behaviors – like over drinking, over eating, obliterating the conscious mind with drugs, accessing blind rage, disassociating and more.

OK – you’ve got the 3 main ideas for January and the first of ~

My Top 12 Relationship Skills

#1  Recognize (and get to know) the many “yous.”

  1. Each of us has a variety of ways of showing up. We have distinct inner Parts. See this post;
  2. Parts exist in relationship to one another. Tune into your inner chatter and you’ll hear one Part persuading or critiquing or judging or dismissing or ignoring or protecting another Part. See here:
  3. This is not random. Our Parts each behave purposefully in one of three ways: to proactively manage our day to day, to exile our deepest vulnerabilities or to dowse our inner pain when it is triggered.

Want to play with this?

Watch movies and see if you can distinguish what parts are coming up for the characters. Here’s a fun one for you to get started. Below is a scene from Woody Allen’s movie Blue Jasmine.  It’s the story of a wealthy financier’s wife who tumbles down through the social strata as she looses touch with reality (inner and outer) as her anger, shame and drinking increasingly unhinge her.

In this scene, you may be able to detect her ~

  • MANAGERS – struggling to proactively maintain appearances with dignified work and options;
  • EXILES – the bursts of shame and unworthiness that pop out
  • FIREFIGHTERS – look for the background drinking and struggle to manage the shame

HOW DOES KNOWING THIS HELP MY RELATIONSHIPS?

I’m answering this first of all with the wonderful Brene Brown quote at the top of this article:

If you think dealing with issues like worthiness and authenticity and vulnerability are not worthwhile because there are more pressing issues, like the bottom line or attendance or standardized test scores, you are sadly, sadly mistaken. It underpins everything.

Until you become aware of the rich complexity of your own inner system it’s as if you’re flying blind in the dark, with no instruments.

As long as you are not hitting another plane and you’re not being buffeted too violently, you can get away with blind flight. But as soon as you hit turbulence and your wings tip, or you go into a spin, or you want to avoid what might be an obstacle ahead and you start randomly punching at buttons on your instrument panel, your progress, your impact, your position and your recovery are totally random!

If you want to be a competent pilot in all weather conditions, you need to learn everything you can about your airplane. What are all the moving parts of your airplane, how do they interact and which instruments communicate with them and how. What are the emergency safety features and do any parts need to be repaired or updated?

If you want to be competent in relationships through good times and bad, you need to learn everything you can about your self. What are all your moving Parts? How do they interact and how do you impact their behavior? What are the emergency safety features and do any parts need to be repaired or updated?

Hope that metaphor works for you. We’ll keep exploring and deepening this answer .

WHO IS REALLY IN CHARGE OF ALL THESE PARTS, WHERE’S THE LEADERSHIP?

Great question. Come back in February when I’ll be exploring this issue each Wednesday.

WANT TO TRY SOMETHING?

If you’ve not encountered Brene Brown and her work on Shame, you might enjoy either of these two TED talks she gave:

1. The Power of Vulnerability

2.  Listening To Shame

PHOTO CREDITS