We say we want to be strong.
And by strong, we usually mean strong alone.
We can also be strong together.
And by being strong together,
I don’t mean helping others become strong alone.
Nor do I mean getting help so we can become strong alone.
I mean being strong by virtue of being together.
To be strong together is to be dependent, even for a moment.
Dependent is a dirty word with which nobody wants to be associated .
Yet, there are things we must depend on others to achieve.
Survival is one such thing.
Few things are more rewarding than knowing that we are needed.
Few things are more deadly than thinking we are not.
Perceiving people merely in their roles makes it easy for us to take them for granted in that moment.
You’re my mother, of course you cook for me.
You’re my child, of course you obey my orders.
You’re my employer, of course you pay me.
You’re my employee, of course you work hard for me.
You’re a doctor, of course you cure my ill.
You’re my patient, of course you do what I tell you.
The more we strip away the roles and see eye-to-eye, as human beings, the easier it is to appreciate each other.
The less appreciated we feel, the more resentment we let build in our relationship.
The more resentment we let build in our relationship, the more difficult it is to perceive beyond the roles.
Thus forms a vicious cycle.
I still remember the day I realized I was not living my own life.
I was shocked.
Because I prided myself on living my own life.
I had been intentionally deviating from what my friends were doing.
I thought I was living my own life.
It turns out I’d been conforming to nonconformity.
I’d been playing the role of a “rebel.”
Much of our lives are spent playing roles: a good son, a caring parent, a resilient entrepreneur, a modernist painter, a stoic physician, …
As we do, we mistake pretending for being ourselves.
We mistake pretending for being.
Hamlet once said “To be or not to be, that is the question.”
Let us ask this question.
Lest we die having never lived.
Some of the tensions blocking our empathy comes from sitting around hunched over a computer screen.
Do a few burpees.
Stand up and write on the whiteboard.
If you’re breathing shallow, breathe from your belly.
Stand tall, look up at the ceiling for a few seconds and smile.
Submerge your face in ice-cold water for a few seconds, a few times.
For a period of time, walk around holding a frozen water bottle in your hand.
Whatever you do, remember that it is our responsibility to choose to relieve our tension.
Whether we do it ourselves or ask for the help of others, we still have to notice and make the choice in our mind.
Let us make the choice.
We say we have given.
Be it our care, time, or money, …
Yet, we sometimes hold on to the _memory_ of having given.
Then perhaps we have lent, not given.
Lending creates expectations.
Expectations create tension.
The bigger the amount lent, the more tension it creates.
To give is to let go.
To let go is not easy.
Yet, letting go creates space in our mind.
Perhaps the most scarce resource we have as leaders.
Space in our mind.
Even more scarce than time.
Let us reclaim our space of mind.
A trap we often fall into is “either/or” thinking.
Someone professes their pain, we think they mean our pain is less. Not necessarily.
Someone says their achievement is great, we think they mean our achievement is less. Not necessarily.
Someone says something they have is worth much, we think they mean something we have is worth less. Not necessarily.
As the saying goes, it’s easy to judge others by their behaviors while judging ourselves by our intentions.
It can be difficult to realize our empathy so as to understand what others intend to mean over what we think they mean.
Yet, this can save us a ton of time and energy in the end.
Empathy realizing by itself is easy.
Realizing empathy, on the other hand, can be difficult.
Sometimes this is difficult due to a bias or a lack awareness.
But that’s not all.
What can also make it difficult is tension.
Tension is a conflict between what our mind needs or values vs what it has instead.
When we experience too much tension, we can become mired in the discomfort or pain.
In this state, we have no room in our being to realize our empathy.
When two people are experiencing significant tension, without the help of a 3rd-party—not only free of significant tension, but also well-versed in the art of realizing empathy—, it is unlikely the two will be able to realize empathy with each other.