Brene Brown has changed my life a few times now— first with her TED talk about vulnerability and courage, second with her follow up TED talk about shame, and now with a couple animated shorts produced by RSA about empathy and blame. Aside from being hilarious and touching this short about empathy elegantly expresses what’s emotionally and behaviorally going on when we employ empathy vs. sympathy.
The insight in this video is for anyone who wants to be a better friend, lover, son, daughter, mother, father, etc, in addition to those who create and hold healing space for others.
Who among us hasn’t at some point in our lives wanted to distance ourselves from the pain or life-choices of another? I know there are people for whom it is easy for me to empathize with deeply—and then there are people for whom I’ve struggled to empathize with. I’d like to think it’s because I want “something better” for them, but even that is actually just a veiled judgment.
What I was reminded of when watching this video is that empathy, or being of comfort to a person going through something difficult, requires me to make my heart available to be touched by the emotional experience they’re having. To do this without trying to fix or change their experience requires me to slow down, drop in, listen, and be reminded of the pain that exists in myself, and in each of us.
Ram Dass explains this in his interview with Sounds True as well—people feel misunderstood and alone when their listener resists, judges, “silver-lines”, or problem-solves in response to a vulnerable share regarding pain or sadness. Ram Dass goes on to say that his job is to allow his heart to be broken by their pain and to simultaneously hold the possibility that their pain isn’t the whole story.
Finally—at the end of the video is a real moment of gold. What happens when we allow ourselves to go to our own vulnerable place and truly share in that icky moment with another person? They feel connection rather than isolation… and there…there is the crack for the experience to actually change. Not because someone fixed it, but because we experienced connection in the dark depths of that deepest sorrow or challenge. Rather than feeling more alone, and worse for having shared it with someone who wants to distance themselves from it, we experience connection to the world, to others, and to the core of the human experience.