Irony is when we judge others as lacking empathy

I once attended a workshop
that laid out a model of how shame develops.

The model suggested,
that when children feel overwhelmed with emotion,
—pleasant or unpleasant—
their natural instinct
is often to reach out to others
—like their parents—
to process it.

Yet,
for better or for worse,
parents may unintentionally “reject“ such reaching out.
And with repeated “rejection,”
children may start to subconsciously judge themselves
as unworthy of love and attention,
when overwhelmed with emotion.
Thus planting the seed of shame.

In hindsight,
I spent much of my life coping with shame.
I did it by pursuing a self-image
of someone who never felt overwhelmed.
A stoic who could always “figure it out,”
through sheer intellect and will power.

It wasn’t until I began my work on empathy,
that I learned the choice
to empathize with that part of me,
instead of hyper-empathizing with it.

It was perhaps as Carl Jung once said,
“Until you make the unconscious conscious,
it will direct your life and you will call it fate.”

One of the most profound things
I learned in art school,
is that we can learn
to physically see the world
differently.

To draw from observation,
I had to look at objects
and learn to see light
instead of objects.

To make a poster,
I had to look at a piece of paper
and learn to see a deeply 3-dimensional space
through the surface of the paper.

To sculpt figures,
I had to look at a naked person
and learn to see their muscles & skeletons
hidden underneath their skin.

To learn to act,
I had to learn to see myself in the character
in between the words written in the script.

In each of these cases,
I’d say “Oh, I see…,”
and that change of sight
would profoundly shift my thought,
which then naturally shifted my behavior.

It is no coincidence,
that the professors I admired in school
never bothered to change my behavior.

They merely helped me see differently,
after which a change in behavior
was inevitable.

One of the most difficult
and important need to manage
is our need to matter.

It is an existential need
that taps directly into our sense of self-worth.

Few are willing to admit to this need being a major driver.

Some admit to this in a roundabout way
by saying “I’m going to prove them wrong,”
which is a response to people who violated our need to matter.

Most will brush off the existence of this need
by emphasizing other needs
such as the need to contribute,
which is deemed more “altruistic,”
thus more acceptable and in alignment
with our desire to retain a self-image
of a “good” person.

Our need to matter
can serve as a powerful motivator to achieve something,
because achieving that thing may seem like the way to matter,
thus empowering us to persevere in the most difficult of times.

At the same time,
it can also blind us to behaviors that conspire against us.
Behaviors that, in hindsight, were excessive.
Behaviors we later regret.
Behaviors that may even cost us our lives
or lead to the demise of everything we’ve worked hard to build.

Our need to matter is a double-edged sword.

May we manage it
and manage well.

First time we snowboard,
draw,
lead,
we tend to use a lot of force.

When our snowboarding,
pencil marks,
teammates,
are not to our liking,
we may apply even more force.

Years later,
when we snowboard,
draw,
lead,
we may feel more relaxed.

When we have to stop abruptly,
make a bold mark,
assert a final decision,
we may still use force.

But these are different uses of force.
In the first case,
it was probably because we were afraid of falling,
making a mistake,
being judged.

Once we can empathize with
the snowboard,
our drawing tools,
our teammates,
fear can vanish for a moment
in the experience of oneness
beyond “I” vs “them.”

Force used in fear
resists
Like two opponents wrestling.
Force used while empathizing
flows
Like two partners dancing.

One of the most common block to insight
is cynicism.

To realize empathy with cynicism
it can be useful to model it
as doubt + judgment.

This implies that
once we strip our cynicism of judgment,
we can more clearly confront our doubt.

Then as we develop the requisite skill and will
to zoom into our doubt,
it can lead to the discovery
of our worry or concern,
ultimately fear,
over a future we do not wish to see happen.

When we can clearly see and hear
this undesired future
we can also increase the probability
of realizing empathy,
which ultimately helps us create choices,
the kind that gives us a feeling of possibility
beyond the horizon of cynicism,
which is a key
to designing toward a future
we do wish to see happen,
instead of staying stuck
unconsciously envisioning a future
we do not wish to see happen.

I find it
to be of significant importance
to distinguish options
from choices.

Options need not provoke emotions.

We may have 5 options to choose from for lunch.
Yet, none of them may move us to make a choice.

We can weigh the pros and cons of the options all we want,
but this may merely fuel our inner conflict,
until we feel moved enough to make a choice.

Choices,
unlike options,
has an emotional component.

Some choices are made begrudgingly.
Yet, the kind I find most fascinating
is the kind that arises the moment we realize our empathy.

That moment when we’ve finally moved
from a state of dissonance,
of not empathizing,
to a state of resonance,
of empathizing.

That moment when what we once could not see
becomes surprisingly self-evident,
and oh so obvious
in hindsight.

That moment we go
“Oh, of course…!”

p.s: My gratitude goes out to Dr. Paul Pangaro for the wonderful conversation that inspired this post.

Sometimes,
I coach professionals who aren’t
Founders or CEOs.

Guess who they complain about the most?
Their Founder or CEO.

What I often hear
is that they don’t feel appreciated
by their Founder or CEO.

This is a well-known phenomenon.

What still fascinates me, though,
is what they say the Founder or CEO could do
to give them this sense of appreciation.

Rarely do I hear things like
“Praise me for a job well done.”

More often than not I hear things like
“I wish they’d stop frowning when I’m sharing my ideas.”
“I wish they’d stop telling me to figure it out on my own, even if that’s what I end up doing.”

They were distressed about the sense of isolation they felt
when their Founder or CEO
dawned a particular facial expression
or told them to figure something out on their own
as they were in a vulnerable emotional state.

What’s perhaps ironic
is that many Founders or CEOs I coach
say the same thing
as they see the same behaviors
and feel the same emotions
in relation to their employees.

Several years back,
I visited a private high school.

There,
I did a workshop
where the students sketched
a blueprint of the kind of relationship
they wished to have
with their teachers
such that the teachers could more effectively
help them learn, create, grow, and mature.

The keyword they used
to sum up their sketch
was “being there.”

The students wanted teachers
who were willing to “be there” for them.

I then asked the students
to raise their hand
if they already had this kind of relationship.

2 out of ~40 students raised their hand.

After this incident,
it become a priority for me
to form this kind of relationship,
with those whom I have committed
to help learn, create, grow, and mature.

I’m grateful for this lesson
I learned
from those students.

One of the most important concepts
I introduced in my first book
is metaphors.

Metaphors connect two seemingly unrelated ideas.

In doing so
it can help us discover
new or unexpected insights
into something we were previously unaware.

For example,
while I was on tour with my book
I shared the psychological pain and struggle
I experienced in the artistic creative process
with some of the people I met.

To my surprise,
Entrepreneurs resonated more deeply w/ my experience
than others.

It turns out
entrepreneurs experience
similar psychological/interpersonal pain and struggle
in the process of launching and running their business.

This experience helped me create a metaphor
between the experience of artists
and the experience of entrepreneurs,
which lead to a series of insights,
which is how I ended up coaching entrepreneurs/founders.

But until
I created that metaphor
I used to often say that I don’t understand entrepreneurs.

If I said I do understand,
it was just so I could feel entitled
to say something negative about them.

So now
whenever I say I don’t understand someone
or say I do understand them
just so I can say something negative about them,
I tell myself
that it’s time
for another
metaphor.

It’s ok to give up.

What may be more important
is getting to the heart of what we want.

Not the thing we say or think we want,
but the thing for which our heart yearns,
floating right on the threshold
of our conscious and sub-conscious.

Once we become aware of what this is,
we tend to realize that there are many ways to attain this.

In that moment, “giving up” becomes
but a matter of giving up one of many methods of attaining this.

If so,
“giving up” can eliminate the very thing getting in the way
of making progress:
our insistence on a particular method.
Thereby helping us make greater progress
toward attaining what we want
if even if it is merely temporary.