This blog is about the idea of grabbing the attention of someone who is afraid to move beyond their comfort zone; to reach out and stretch their own beliefs in order for them to move forward in life.
How do you teach?
How do you parent?
How do you become a good employee? Boss?
How do you live your life?
All of the answers to these questions could come from the same place…the same basic tenet. How, you ask? Instead of giving the answer straight up, I would like to share some thoughts on what brought me to this idea.
This idea comes from a struggle I have been dealing with; the issue of losing people who just don’t seem to want to improve. Barring me telling you that it’s my job, or my family and friends or society in general, I would like you to ponder the idea that what I have realized could be applied to almost any situation.
This is a very hard one for me, mostly because I am so hard on myself. I wanted to have done and still do everything for my children; two of them are grown and the third is in high school. While I feel I can still have a positive effect on my children, I just don’t think that it’s getting through.
What I mean is that, as parents, we want our children to not have to suffer in any way as they grow. But, lack of suffering sometimes won’t teach them anything. I’m not saying we should enforce suffering ourselves, but I am saying that as parents, we typically do everything in our power (at least as we perceive it to be) to keep our children from harm. Why? I don’t know about everyone else out there, but for me, it was/is because I want my children to experience happiness more often than I did growing up. I did, and do that in the most basic ways. How? Well, let’s say one child wants to have friends over to review his/her creations (this kid is extremely creative). So, I not only allow the friends over, but make dinner for everyone in the house and let them stay as long as they want. My reasoning? My children are home and they are happy.
Despite all that…it doesn’t seem to have been enough.
For me, this one is easy…mostly because I started out in an alternative high school as a tutor, helping at-risk kids learn. Why was this so easy for me? I could relate with my students. Not because I was trained, but because I had grown up as an at-risk kid myself. So, I connected with them on a different level. These students appreciated that kind of attention and therefore, did their best to do what I expected of them.
Did I lose students? Sure. Did I feel awful? Sure. In the long run, how much should I have taken responsibility for their success? Personally, there is a fine line when it comes to that answer, but the best way to address that issue, is again…always give everything I have, whether it was staying late to explain an idea, sticking around to listen to (hear) a troubling story, praising success, or helping a student refocus in the face of failure; basically, always ‘being there’.
There’s a whole different dynamic going on with the work relationship. What I mean is that an employee can’t say something and get an acknowledging response as if everyone knows/understands exactly what they are talking about. Coworkers and bosses all come from very different places and life experiences. Understanding this idea is one step in being heard and feeling valued. Creating that understanding though, is another feat in and of itself, entirely.
And that’s the rub, if you will. The only way to create that understanding is by speaking up and hoping that others will actually ‘hear’ you. But, if you were an at-risk youth, or you are an at-risk adult, speaking up and stepping out of your comfort zone is more than likely the hardest thing in the world for you to do.
So what’s the answer? How does an employee or a boss become understood so that everyone in a team or everyone in a department is basically ‘on the same page’? You work at it; you speak up…bit by bit if you have to and with different words and different ways of expressing yourself if necessary. You don’t let go of the ball either and you stick with it no matter how much you feel like you are failing. Of course, there is a fine line with this idea as well…just as there is with being a teacher, or with being a parent.
This one is real easy for me and I would like to relate two stories to help with the explanation…
Story one: I was riding my bike one day down a trail I hadn’t been on before. I came upon a jogger who was running with two dogs and had earbuds in her ears listening to music. I tried passing on the grass, but it spooked her dog, sending him across her path and pulling her off path, which made her drop her iPhone and run into low-hanging pine branches. I immediately felt awful. I stopped and endured her frustration with me, because I wanted to make sure she was ok. We ended up chatting and she explained her rotten day. I felt even more awful, but stayed until she had pulled herself back together and was jogging again.
Story two: I was riding my bike one day on a path I typically travel. I came upon an older person who was riding slowly. Because I couldn’t go off into the grass to pass, I spoke up and warned him that I was passing on his left. I passed and as I did, he accosted me, accusing me of not speaking up and warning him that I was passing. I apologized profusely and said that I did say something. This apparently was not enough as he proceeded to not only explain to me that saying, “passing” is the courteous thing to do, but then he demonstrated it for me and reminded me that, “This is the courteous thing to do,” as he rode more quickly down the path.
Will I ride again? Oh, without a doubt. Will I ride differently? No. I will continue to speak up and let others know when I am approaching, mostly because I know what it feels like to be startled by someone you had no clue was behind you in the first place; one-offs, or grouchy old men, not-withstanding.
So, what is the resounding theme? Can you figure it out? If you are an empathetic person, then you were probably saying to yourself, from the first paragraph, “Oh yeah, I can relate so well,” or “I ‘feel’ you!”
Empathy is the theme and while it is not necessarily an innate trait, it can be and is learned from a very early age. If you hadn’t learned it as a child though, does that necessarily mean you are doomed to being ‘unrelateable’? No, not at all. Empathy can be learned at any age. I warn you though, it takes patience and an ability to leave your comfort zone and truly place yourself into another’s shoes. But, once you can do that, you will more than likely have the ability to ‘move mountains’, or as I had queried at the beginning, ‘let go of what we hold dear’, because empathy not only captures the hearts of those we wish to relate to, but it moves us in directions we never thought possible.
For more info on the subject, check out these interesting articles on empathy’s potential in all areas of society:
- Understanding How Children Develop Empathy – New York Times
- Developing Empathy: Raising Children who Care – University of Alabama
- What Empathy Can Do – Educational Leadership – ASCD (Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development)
- What’s Empathy Got to Do With It? – MindTools: Essential Skills for an Excellent Career
- Recruitment and Retention for Underrepresented Students — Enhancing diversity in our school, our university, our community, and our society. – School of Education: Indiana University
- Online Student Retention Strategies: A Baker’s Dozen of Recommendations – Faculty Focus
- Six Habits of Highly Empathic People – Greater Good: The Science of a Meaningful Life – UC Berkeley