Posted by docapc at 6:10 pm
TweetI am a clinical psychologist in private practice and I see a diverse group of clients every week. Most of my clients are not mentally ill but are highly stressed by how they respond to the world we all currently live in. It is inevitable that people raise the question of politics in my individual, family, marital and group therapy sessions.
Politicians tell us that we have a binary choice to make, many feel it is between a candidate who lies versus one with an apparent personality disorder. Our future they say is the hands of one of these individuals.
I vehemently disagree. Our societal troubles are far deeper than these two individuals. We know that Americans have fewer friends, trust less, while empathy for others has decreased. Let’s bring this political dilemma down to an individual dilemma.
Do you lie? Do you blame others when you make a mistake? Do you become overly defensive when questioned if someone is being critical? Do you slander your colleagues, friends, spouses, relatives and most importantly your children if they disagree with you? Do you value achievement more than integrity? Do you value appearance more than character? These are all the questions this election has brought to the forefront. It is not just about electing a leader. It is about YOU being a leader. A leader in ever interaction you have. It is about communicating with tact, honestly and most importantly with empathy.
Empathy is a capacity we are born with. It is the ability to understand and respond to the unique experiences of another. It is different than sympathy. Sympathy rushes in to console, it is immediate, reactive, based on our previous experiences. Empathy, in contrast, takes time to gather the facts, no sound bites, only the gathering of truthful facts. No assumptions like “he’s Muslim, she’s Christian, he’s Jewish, she’s an atheist” therefore we know all about them. Empathy is part of our genetic endowment, but if it is not practiced it atrophies like an unused muscle. Our world, with terrorism, bigotry, hatred, and mounting attempts to segregate one kind of individual or one country from another is in critical need of an expansion of empathy. When we open our eyes and expand our view we not only become a change agent, we produce chemicals that make us live longer and happier. Stress produces the opposite; the stress hormone cortisol reduces empathy and creates biased, black and white thinking.
We cannot afford, in these crucial times, to continue with pessimism and helplessness. YOU can make a difference, right now, this moment. Don’t wait for politicians to be the leaders of the change, you are the CHANGE, we are the CHANGE.
Bottom line-all human beings want two things-to be loved and respected. Take either away or deprive a person of both and conflict results. When we slow down, calm ourselves and truly try to understand each other we find that beyond race, religion, country and culture we all are more alike than we ever realized. Beyond the surface of every human being we find ourselves, and that is our connection to humanity.
Human beings, all human beings, possess goodness. Empathy uncovers our true self, lying and slander covers over goodness like a circle of clouds on a dreary day. Our world is not dreary, it is filled with good people but each one of us has to work to uncover the goodness in each other to survive with hope and happiness. Develop your empathic capacity and you will feel alive, free and connected to the world with hope and renewed energy. We need an empathy movement more than a political movement.
Arthur P. Ciaramicoli, Ed.D., Ph.D.
Author of The Stress Solution: Using Empathy and Cognitive Behavioral Therapy to Reduce Anxiety and Develop Resilience.