Perceiving people merely in their roles makes it easy for us to take them for granted.
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, values, or expects 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.
Let us not confuse concern with love.
There’s nothing wrong with feeling concern for the people we love. At the same time, concern arises out of fear, not love. Yes, concern can be fueled by care, but care is not love.
It’s worth asking ourselves if desires like “I want my employees to perform better” or “I want my students to be successful,” are born out of fear or love.
The kinds of design that emerge out of repressed and unidentified fear can be unhelpful to others at best and harmful at its worst.
We often say “People don’t change.”
What we mean is people don’t change the way we want them to change.
People change the way they are motivated to change.
One of the quickest ways to feel frustrated is to coerce other people to change based on our own value system.
One of the most effective ways of sustaining that frustration is to rationalize why our own value system should be universal.