A New Year: Increasing Empathy

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The benefit of having a blog (like a journal), is that you can look back on where you were in the past – physically, mentally, emotionally, spiritually…most specifically, on that most-reminiscent of days – New Years Eve. This time last year, I was focusing on “less grudge and more gratitude,” a goal that I was more or less successful with. Even with major life changes (hello, baby James!), I can honestly say 2013 was a peaceful year, precisely because I was choosy about the influences I allowed in my life. That act of releasing old business also helped with old grudges – if the offending person has no bearing on my current life, than who am I to give them a second thought?

However, as most people also find, striving for peace does not always guarantee that people won’t still manage to piss you off! And sometimes these people are not ones you can avoid. It’s always disheartening for me when a flippant and often ignorant comment from someone else manages to bring down my entire day. Whether or not that was their intent (consciously or subconsciously), I seem to always forget that it’s MY choice how I react to these annoyances.

As I’ve done in the past, I turned to the wise words of Pema Chodron:

“This is an idea that seems difficult for Westerners to accept: when someone harms us, they create the cause of their own suffering. They do this by strengthening habits that imprison them in a cycle of pain and confusion. It’s not that we are responsible for what someone else does, and certainly not that we should feel guilty. But when they harm us, we unintentionally become the means of their undoing. Had they looked on us with loving-kindness, however, we’d be the cause of their gathering virtue. 

What I find helpful in this teaching is that what’s true for them is also true for me. The way I regard those who hurt me today will affect how I experience the world in the future. In any encounter, we have a choice: we can strengthen our resentment or our understanding and empathy. We can widen the gap between ourselves and others or lessen it.”
~ Pema Chodron, From her book No Time To Lose

Perfectly summed up, as always! Increasing my empathy towards others, especially when they’ve hurt me, is something I’ve struggled with…but now is as good a time as any to give it a try. So the next time someone sends me a “nice” email, but cc’s others so that they can have an audience to their “good deed,” instead of annoyance, I will feel empathy – how awful it must be to so badly need the approval of others that it destroys important relationships? The next time someone “apologizes” simply so they can then point out something wrong I’ve done as well, I will feel empathy – how tiring it must be to always be “right,” no matter how alienating it is to other people? The next time someone only sends me a holiday card once they’ve confirmed that I’ve sent one to them, I will feel empathy – how petty to only want to do nice things if there’s something in it for you?

So practicing empathy towards everyone is my major goal in 2014! Other character flaws I’m trying to work: 1. frivolously complaining about little things – it really adds nothing to my day, and certainly detracts joy from anyone else stuck on the receiving end, and 2. Interrupting others (a learned behavior which I think goes back a looooong time) – even when I’ve properly listened, and am really just excited to contribute to the conversation, it does not come off that way to the person who’s talking. To them, I’m not giving the respect of allowing them to finish their sentence/thought, and since I personally know how frustrating that is, I should really be working on this!

Are “New Years resolutions” on your agenda? If not, check out this simple list of “How to End Your Year on a High Note” from Peaceful Mind Peaceful Life.





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