forgiven

Learning Unconditional Compassion

I have written a few times about my neighbor and the inconvenience of the smoke that comes from his house. Over the years I had made a few attempts to let them know there was a problem. My first attempt was to my neighbor’s girlfriend who had absolutely no interest or desire in improving anyone else’s experience. My second attempt was through the home association board because the smokers were now a string of people cycling through the house. This helped for a few months, but then the problem sprouted up again.

After three years of having to close my windows multiple times during the day to minimize the amount of stinky weed in my house, I lost it. I lost it big time. The owner of the home was now staying at the premises, and I let loose years of pent-up anger, frustration, and fear on him. I did it without attacking him or his guests, but it was definitely expressed with an excessive amount of feeling. We have come to an agreement that they will let me know before they smoke so I can at least close my windows before the smoke gets in. The entire incident was very emotionally charged for me and after reviewing the situation I realized a few things.

Over-Accommodating

In hindsight, I should have been letting the homeowner know how difficult it has been over the years, but I believed I had to take the high road. I should be the bigger person. I should be accepting. What I forgot was that I can take the high road – and still have boundaries. I can be the bigger person – and take care of myself. I can be accepting of not only others, but of my needs. In trying to be a good person to others, I completely forgot to be a good person to myself.

Release

Stuffing down the emotions of my unmet needs for years manifested in depression, anger, and physical illness in my body. My repressed anger created constant anxiety and an inability to express my thoughts and needs clearly. Once I realized how much negative energy I had stored in my body, I needed to find release. Unfortunately, I do not have an energy worker where I live. However, I stumbled upon energy release through death metal. My husband put on an album by Master; ironically a band started by my childhood neighbor. This was not the normal music I listen to, but for some reason, it was a wonderful tool to help me release my bad vibrations.

Don’t Take Anything Personally

Once I could be free from the cloudy thinking of my emotions, I could start to take inventory of my actions and options. Having smoke in my home is unhealthy and my thinking that he was doing it on purpose or disrespectfully made it worse. In The Four Agreements, Don Miguel Ruiz tells us not to take anything personally. It was self-focused to think this was happening to me, specifically. The smokers were smoking. They were living their life wholly separate from me. When I could release the thought that it was intentional, it relieved some of the pain.

Focus

I spent a lot of time focusing on my neighbor. Judging him for his actions. Ruminating on things I could say to him. Rehashing the same ideas on how to solve the problem. I wasted a lot of energy and peace focusing on someone and something beyond my control. When I switched focus to my inner mental health, instead of uncontrollable outer circumstances, I found peace. It was amazing how I found serenity simply by changing my own mental, emotional, and spiritual state. Nothing really changed externally, and yet I found much more peace.

Expectations

As I always say, a dog is going to be a dog. When we expect a dog to be a cat, we are just causing ourselves pain. I was expecting people to act differently then they are capable. I just created my own pain and frustration by expecting something which was not possible. Every day my neighbor showed his true colors, yet I expected that he would act in a different way. My pain is on me if I am expecting someone to act other than they have shown inclination to do.

Compassion

By releasing pent-up emotions, switching focus to what I could control (my thinking and actions), speaking and standing up for my needs, and adjusting my expectations, I was also able to find compassion for my neighbor. I stopped seeing him as an intentionally bad person and was able to begin to see him wholly. No one is all bad. We are all just doing the best with what we can do right now. By releasing that judgment, I also received more peace.

I learned unconditional compassion for my neighbor, and myself, through this emotionally charged incident. In the world today, it is easy to have rage and take offense at the beliefs and actions of others. How can you find release and compassion?

spock - that is highly illogical

That is Highly Illogical

The last few years have been a struggle to understand why everyone is losing their shit. Ok, maybe that is not stated correctly. Obviously, there appear to be valid reasons for people to be on edge – a pandemic, global climate change, and misuse of power. But the reason we are all on edge, the reason we are emotional, the reason we are at our wits end are not those real hard-core factual logical reasons. We are in pain, individually and collectively, because of how we feel about these facts.

It is never the circumstance that causes us pain. It is our thought or feeling about that circumstance that causes us pain. Our perception of the world and how it works – if it is fair or unfair, if it is ending or being reborn – is constantly being played in the background of our mind. All of the information we receive is funneled through our perceptions and beliefs and adjusted to fit our worldview.

A simple example I provide in my book, is having $100 in our bank account. The amount of money is a fact. However, what having that money means is based on our perception. We can look at our checkbook at the end of the month and think, “Thank goodness, I have $100 left in my account after paying all my bills.” Or we can think, “Oh, my god. I am in trouble. I only have $100 left in my bank account.” The fact of the amount of money has not changed, but how we choose to interpret that fact is what causes us emotional pain or joy.  

All of the conflict that I am watching between friends, family, and society as a whole is not because of the facts of pandemics, vaccines, or the state of the government. It is caused by each person’s unique viewpoint on what those situations mean. If a news event happens and I watch Fox News, CNN, and the BBC reporting on it, I can often get the feeling three completely different events occurred because of how the story is reported and what emotional embellishment is added.

spock - that is highly illogical

My personal pain through all of this is in trying to determine how to help those I love. I see and feel the pain that my friends and family are experiencing, and I don’t seem to be able to provide relief. Many of us are trying to use logic to help each other see the “truth” or the “right” way. The problem with this is that logic is based on facts, and the pain and emotion being felt are based on perception and belief. The way to provide relief to those we love is to deal with dishonest beliefs, not the facts.

Next time you disagree with someone, instead of debating facts, seek to understand the other. Be open to hearing why they interpret the facts in the way they do. Inquire into their history and see how their past experiences are coloring current events. Investigate what they value to uncover what their fears are and why. When we can objectively see the truth and understand another’s perception, we can help someone else to see circumstances in a new light, not discolored by their or our own fears and dishonest beliefs. When we can put aside our own perceptions and beliefs, we can then objectively and compassionately understand another.

No matter the circumstances, we have a choice of how to react. It is our thought or belief about a circumstance or event that causes us anger, worry, or fear – not the event itself. This is why having a debate on the facts with those who disagree with us do not work. Because none of us are being affected by the facts. We are being influenced and controlled by our beliefs about the facts. If you truly want to create a more peaceful world, be open to exploring how your beliefs are coloring facts and have compassion for others who are also struggling with their own dishonest beliefs.

be the change

Unenlightened Blame

We all have our favorite Greek philosophers, right?  Mine is Epictetus. He never wrote any of his philosophies down, but his students would scribe his talks. As I wrote my book, From Type-A to Type-Me: How to Stop “Doing” Life and Start Living It, again and again I ran across quotes from Epictetus which were in direct alignment to my thoughts, beliefs, and attitudes about life.

Recently I started reading, The Art of Living: The Classical Manual on Virtue, Happiness, and Effectiveness, where Sharon Lebell shares collected passages from his talks. The passages are in bite-size chunks perfect for daily reflection. One passage, “No Shame, No Blame,” really stood out to me. In this passage, Epictetus exposes unnecessary self-created pain. Here is what he said.

Photo by Maria Thalassinou on Unsplash

Blame

He starts out strongly saying that it is not the circumstances or issues we face that cause us pain, but our  feelings about them. I have thought and written about that before. Epictetus takes it one step further – which is obvious, but I hadn’t tied the two thoughts together. He says when things are difficult, “let us never place the blame on others, but on our own attitudes.” Pretty obvious – and powerful – right?  I always focused on self-improvement. How do I improve my thinking to resolve a painful situation? And yet, I might blame the other party for their role. That guy is a jerk for doing X, Y or Z, but I am going to rise above it and change my thinking. If, however, I am going to truly, completely accept that it is our “feelings about things” that torment us, then the others involved are not to be blamed, at all. Yes, they may be acting in inappropriate ways and perhaps we need boundaries to protect ourselves, but it is our feelings, not their actions that are causing us pain. We can not blame them for our experience. As Eleanor Roosevelt said, “No one can make you feel inferior without your consent.” If you are feeling a certain way, you can not blame anyone except yourself because you are choosing to suffer.

Moral Progress

Epictetus then takes this concept out to society as a whole. “One of the signs of moral progress is the gradual extinguishing of blame.” Wow. Sit with that. What if our current culture stopped pointing their finger at the other side? What if we stopped attacking others for taking away our freedoms or putting us at risk? What if we stopped feeding our negative emotions with biased, sensationalized viewpoints? What if we stopped playing victim and instead stepped into responsibility for our own lives? Epictetus saw society moving from the small-mindedness of blaming others, to blaming ourselves for our situation, to “a life of wisdom” where we embrace the truth that blaming others or even ourselves does no good. This is true acceptance and compassion.

A New Way

As you go about your day, notice who you are blaming. Is it the driver in front of you who is going to make you late for your appointment? Is it yourself for something said or not said? Is it politicians or extremists? Take a step back from the circumstance and look at your feelings about the situation. What is causing your emotional reaction? What are the beliefs, attitudes, and expectations that are causing your anger or sorrow? You may not be able to change the circumstance, but you can ALWAYS change your attitude about it. Let’s all make strides to move our society into the way of wisdom, not unenlightened blame.

We welcome everyone

United We Stand

Cubs versus White Sox. Thin crust versus deep-dish pizza. Growing up in Chicago the debates were fun and fairly innocuous. These days the debates have become much more polarizing and contentious. More issues are black-and-white with no room for gray. Our opinions have become facts. Our beliefs are the only truth. The lack of open-mindedness and acceptance have led to a division in the States we have not seen at this level since the Civil War; although it may have always been there under the surface.

To me, the underlying issue is selfishness and self-centeredness increasing to obscene proportions. It started out innocently as the pride of being a self-made person and a true individual. Over time the scales have tilted too far. Today self-focus is not self-care, but a ridged extreme self-importance created at the expense of others. Sometimes this self-centeredness is created out of fear and sometimes it is created out of pure narcissism. No matter how it started, we are now at a critical time where we need to come together or we will completely fall apart. Now is a time to accept each other and find empathy instead of anger and hate. It is time to seek to understand differing viewpoints instead of dismissing others when we disagree.

To shift the current negative momentum, try to make a human connection and instead of labeling, get to know the other. You can hate what they do but hating the individual does no good. Brené Brown teaches of shame versus guilt; basically guilt is feeling bad for something done versus shame is believing the person is inherently bad because of their actions. Division occurs when we label someone as bad instead of labeling their actions as bad.  Each one of us is a bit of good and a bit of evil – we are a little Larusso and a little Lawrence – when we support and accept each other it is easier for all of us to stand in our good.

Instead of hate and labeling, take the not always so easy path of compassion. Compassion is seeing and understanding another’s pain objectively allowing you to act or provide relief. When anger arises, choose compassion over hate. Two wrongs do not make a right. The way to reduce aggression in the world is with compassion, not more aggression. Don’t forget to be compassionate to yourself. In these unprecedented times, we are not always going to act and feel at our best. That is ok. Do what you can every day and cut yourself from slack.

We may not be able to control the larger issues and struggles in the world. What we can do is change how we approach others. We can make decisions through the eyes of love instead of hate. We can focus on joy instead of fear. We can be the peace we want to bring into the world. 2020 is hanging around for two more months and 2021 does not necessarily bode a change, unless we usher one in. Find tangible ways to make your life better by learning to accept those around you. Together we can not only survive but thrive.

women working

The Business of Empathy

In last week’s post, I provided a teaser about the “feeling economy.” During a Right Management meeting, the term was mentioned as a side note but not really explained. But the term intrigued me, so I did some research.

Just as machines brought us into the Industrial Age, machines, specifically computers, are setting the foundation for the Feeling Economy. The Industrial Revolution emerged as machines replaced humans in repetitive jobs. Many people were affected by this shift as they lost employment to machines. On the positive, as machines took over the easy tasks, humans became the thinkers and the craftsmen. Computers continued to handle more and more leading us into the Technological Revolution, and now computers are swiftly taking over intellectual labor. Voice recognition allowed them to handled customer service calls, and now they can even write articles. I understand that this may scare many people, but what is emerging is so hopeful and beautiful to me. What we are moving into is the Feeling Economy.

women working
Photo by UX Indonesia on Unsplash

At least for now, the one thing computers can not do is have empathy. They can not relate on a personal level with humans. Maybe they will be able to do so in the future, we’ll see. But for now, what makes me excited and hopeful is that what is finally being recognized and valued is emotional intelligence. The California Management Review and the Smith Business School introduce us to the Feeling Economy. As Artificial Intelligence (AI) takes on not only mechanical and repetitive tasks, but moves into analytic and thinking tasks, we move closer to a Feeling Economy where people focus on interpersonal and empathetic tasks. The next boom is with workers who focus on the feeling tasks and emotional sensibilities.

On a personal level, I feel like this frees me from being a machine and provides me the space to be fully human. My strength, and my weakness, is my Type-A drive. This innate drive has allowed me to accomplish incredible things and keep things on track no matter what. It has also made me an unfeeling task master putting projects above individuals’ needs. For much of my work life, I was a machine. I saw the project at hand and only looked at the facts, what needed to be done and by when. I was automated. I was efficient. And I was very cold, distant, and heartless. I almost never took people’s feelings into account. What needed to be accomplished was of sole importance.

Thankfully, slowly over time, I have become more human and empathetic. What has helped me learn and accept the deep truth and need for empathy is that everything is transitory. A profession, a specific job, or a current project being worked on, all of these things change. Think about your term paper for school and how important it was at the time versus how important it is to you now. Most of what we find critical in the moment, is meaningless in the future. What I regret now is not how I performed my work, but how I treated those around me as I bulldozed my way through my work.

We are not here to accomplish things – although we may. Primarily we are here to connect. We are here to give and receive compassion. We are here to love and be loved. All the stress in the world is due to deadlines, ideologies, and other man-made concepts. Peace is found in connection, compassion, and love. I am learning to focus on the experience I or my cohorts are having. When I work with people in job transition, they can learn everything they need to about the job search from Right Management’s extensive articles, videos, and even AI resume review app. My principal role is not to teach or help them complete the process. What I can and should do is help them grieve the loss of their old position, sort through the anger of being let go, and deal with the fear of being between positions. I am in the feeling economy.

In releasing my computerized ways, I am learning to let go of expectations. Expectations are based on a right or wrong, they are based on timelines, they are based on my perceptions. Where I find more joy myself and more relief for my candidates, is focusing on their progress and growth. Yes, we are still working to land them a new position, but I am thanked more for helping people regain their confidence, have hope in the face of uncertainty, and for providing comfort and support. The result, the new position, is often just the framework for their personal growth.

Daniel Goleman introduced Emotional Intelligence back in 1995. Since then Brené Brown, Simon Sinek and others have been leading the charge of evolving business leadership into the feeling economy as empathy is posed to become more important. As with many changes and rebirths, some professions may be affected as we move into the feeling economy. But the shift to focusing and valuing people, feelings, and emotions gives me hope we are headed in right direction as a species. I am pretty excited. You?

smoke window

A Need for Empathy

Lately I have been gifted with some terrific teachers in my life.  The cat that used to sneak into our house, who I had found a home for, is back – and has commenced sneaking into our house.  She is teaching me boundaries with compassion (instead of compassion with no boundaries). The other prominent teacher for me right now is the young woman next door.

Multiple times a day, my neighbor sits on her patio and smokes. Sometimes tobacco, sometimes other plants. As our patios are connected, when she smokes, without fail, the fumes make their way from her patio into my house. I understand that she does not want to smoke in her house and have the smell inside where she lives, but neither do I. Thankfully I never said an unkind word to her, but I have to admit that I have frequently closed my window with extreme prejudice. My angry indignant mind loves to play its tape. “She is so rude. She is purposefully doing this to me or at least doesn’t care about how her actions affect me. It is unfair that she is keeping me from having the fresh air I am entitled to.” The tape stopped the day I spoke to her.

Photo by Taylor Young on Unsplash

We were having some work done on our home and like I good neighbor, I wanted to forewarn her of the noise and mess it may cause. I hardly got the words out of my mouth when she apologized for the smoke. She said that she tries to control how much comes our way, but the wind is not always helpful. She apologized for the weekend before. I had thought she was having a party with a few friends. What I learned was her 20-something friend died unexpectedly and she and her friends were chain-smoking to help them through the trauma.

I felt like a heel. Here I spent weeks making my neighbor into the bad guy. I focused only on myself and my suffering – which I made worse by the stories I told myself. Never in all that time did I tried to get to know her. Never did I have a conversation with her to see if we could problem-solve her right to smoke and my right to clean air. Never did I consider what she may be feeling or what was going on in her life.

Many of us have like me temporarily, or fairly constantly, lost the power of empathy. We look at our goals and our needs. We see people as taking from us or denying us. It takes a figurative slap in the face like I received, to awaken us from our self-centered coma. This experience has helped me remember:

We don’t know what someone else is going through:  Before we get angry because someone cuts us off in traffic or is curt with us on the phone, it helps to pause and consider that maybe the person is having a bad day or is rushing to take care of an emergency. Instead of focusing on our inconvenience, we should look beyond our self.

There is no absolute right or wrong: Just because we have expectations of how things should be, does not mean that is how they will go or even how they should go. Who are we to judge what is right and wrong?

We are all in this together: No matter how much we try to isolate or be independent, we need one another. Peace, understanding, compassion, and empathy can be found when we stop thinking “me” and start thinking “we.”

If you want more inspiration to embrace empathy, watch this terrific talk by Simon Sinek about the need for more empathy in the workplace.

Now more than ever, at work, in our relationships, and in our government, we need more empathy, compassion and understanding.