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Have a Spirit of Giving to our Haitian Sisters and Brothers

People around the world have joined forces in attempts to help Haitians who are suffering enormous hardship. These are the times when our empathy and compassion drive us to do whatever we can to be of help. I have listened to many people tell me how this experience has made them more grateful and appreciative of the freedoms and good fortune we enjoy in our country.

Suffering unites those of us who are interested in mankind; many people find it unbearable that some individuals have to endure life’s greatest pains while not having the support needed to cope effectively.  Those of good character want to help!

I was watching Haitian children singing in the streets the other day.  As their voices pleaded with God for solace I could see their spirits rise despite the chaos around them. We here in the United States often associate wealth and material possessions with happiness. The Haitian people survive with far less than we do, yet their spirits seem to shine despite the lack of amenities in their lives.

If you seek emotional freedom you must be involved in the social world. To expand our humanity we need to open our eyes, minds and hearts to the inequalities of the world. Personal liberation is brought about, in part, when we are involved with the freedom and equality of all people. I have seen in recent days a renewed sense of calm among many people who were previously troubled by matters of little significance in comparison to what we view daily in Haiti. This tragedy has provided us with an opportunity to examine our lives, question how often we are in service to others, and how our lifestyle is affecting our spirits and the lives of others. Perhaps in the face of mortality we are awakened to what really matters in our lives. We are reminded that we do not have ultimate control; we have this moment to do the right thing for ourselves and others. Our lives are truly unpredictable beyond this moment in time.

If you have found yourself very affected by this tragedy use it as an opportunity.  Try to connect to those who suffer and are in great need of your help. Be more of a giver and become less preoccupied with your own self interests. This new perspective will bring you a sense of freedom that cannot be matched by self preoccupation. In the process of healing broken wings we release our humanity and heal ourselves. Open your heart, help the Haitians, and release the goodness within you.

To find ways you can help follow the Red Cross Tweets @redcross or visit http://www.cnn.com/impact

The Amazing Power of Empathy

Empathy is the capacity to understand and respond to the unique experience of another. In my 30 years of clinical experience, I have learned that empathy is unquestionably the most important capacity for a successful personal and professional life. It facilitates all day-to-day encounters. Empathy is also essential to creating real intimacy and satisfying long term relationships.

Sympathy and empathy are often confused. Sympathy is an involuntary feeling-the passive experience of attempting to console in a general sense.

Empathy is an active process in which you try to learn all you can about another person rather than having only a superficial awareness.

We all have an innate capacity for empathy. When we are not treated with empathy, the capacity atrophies, like a muscle that is not used. When we are treated with empathy, our unique personality honored, we learn to be empathic; the muscle increases in mass and strength.

Here are some guidelines to develop empathy:

Ask open ended questions.

Closed-ended questions limit or manipulate the other person’s answer, automatically introducing a power play. The respondent can choose submissive agreement, combative reaction or sullen refusal to play along.

For example, the closed-ended solution: “Do you think my solution is unreasonable?’ might be answered with “I guess not” or “Yes, as usual” or even stony silence. Whatever the reply, the interaction creates a winner and a loser. There can be no common ground or genuine exchange of information.

The open-ended question, in contrast, “How do you see a solution shaping up?” conveys respect for another’s opinions. It initiates a dialogue that can lead to real communication and understanding.

Slow down.

Easing the pace allows volatile emotions to be tempered with thoughtful reflection. We can then grasp the whole picture, not just a narrow, unconstructive focus.

Avoid snap judgments.

It is natural to categorize behaviors based on our own past experiences. But people constantly change.

Don’t jump to conclusions about anyone’s current mental or emotional state, no matter who you have encountered with similar features or mannerisms.

Obstacles to Empathy

Accusations such as “You always react that way” or “I can read you like a book.” Such statements are a turnoff to others and can block you from discovering the truth.

Pay attention to your body. Our nervous systems talk to each other; some researchers define empathy as a nervous system state which tends to stimulate that of another person. When a mother plays with an infant, their hearts beat in time. When one person raises his voice, the other’s heartbeat speeds up.

Consider past experiences and the current circumstance. Strong emotions often emanate from previous, still-unresolved conflicts. Difficult conditions can also affect behavior. Ask yourself: Am I reacting only to the receptionist’s unfriendly manner or to her strong resemblance to a cold, critical figure from the past.

Is the receptionist curt because she dislikes you or because her demanding boss always overbooks?

Let the story unfold. Of all the skills involved in empathy, listening requires the most concentration. It also rewards you with more productive conversations and greater knowledge. Think how much more open and cooperative you feel when you are truly heard rather than cut off or thoughtlessly categorized.

Strategies for better listening

Become all ears. Letting your mind wander, rehearsing your own words or mentally arguing deafens you to what is being said.

Remain unbiased. We all have stereotypes that interfere with our judgment. The most important “truth” is what you hear in the current moment.

Physical health.

Remember moments of empathic connection reduce tension, lesson release of stress hormones, reduce blood pressure and most importantly widen the lens we see the world with. We ultimately realize we are all more alike than we are different.

The Power of Empathy

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The Power of Empathy shows how people can use empathy as an assessment tool in all their relationships. Empathy can signal when people are well-intentioned and when they are deceitful. It can shield people from manipulative strangers and strengthen the bonds between loved ones. It is an emotion that has been overlooked, underused, and misunderstood for too long. Both prescriptive and narrative, The Power of Empathy provides a practical framework for anyone to use empathy to better his or her life.

Dr. Arthur Ciaramicoli believes that empathy is the driving force behind love-and that its power goes vastly unrecognized by most people. His book, The Power of Empathy, is an important new resource for people who hope to enrich their emotional lives, improve their communication skills, and explore the spiritual dimensions of the human capacity for love. While traditional relationship books emphasize loving each other and oneself, Ciaramicoli and Ketcham argue that they overlook the critical fact that love itself needs help-and that empathy is the solution.

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