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Entries Tagged as 'compassion'

The Life-Changing Magic of Taking the High Road

August 1st, 2016 · No Comments

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Re-printed from The Huffington Post

 

We’re seeing quite a bit of unfortunate low road behavior in national politics right now, from all sides.

That’s one reason why Michele Obama’s speech at the DNC has been lauded as powerful and deeply moving.

Michele had a perfect opportunity to take a swipe at the opposition and in fact, some people were hoping for it. After all, her very words from the 2008 presidential convention had been famously plagiarized. What an opportunity she had to take the low road, while claiming to be on high moral ground, a nifty sleight-of-hand routinely employed by low roaders in both public and private venues.

Instead, Michele addressed the high road directly, as a mother of her own children and as a role model for the nation’s children (and ideally, its adults.)

Her words were simple and clear: “When they go low, we go high.” Read more here.

Tags: compassion · connection · truth

How to Be a Friend in Need — Seven Tips That Can Help a Troubled Friend

March 9th, 2016 · No Comments

Friends and family in distress are all around us. From the workplace to the dining table to yoga class, we hear their stories. Their in-laws are driving them crazy. They have toxic co-workers and cope with bizarre office politics. Their stress is palpable.

And we want to hear about it. We want them to talk to us about it. Why do we do this? Is there something wrong with us? Not at all.

Wanting to talk with family or friends about their problems isn’t the same thing asschadenfreude, which translates from German as “harm-joy,” where we take actual pleasure from another’s misfortune.n-FRIENDSHIP-628x314_rev2

There are healthier, kinder parts of us that want and even like to hear about the woes of those we care about. Why is that?

We feel closer when we share our difficulties. When my friend reveals that she is divorcing, I feel special. She chose me confide in. I tell her how terrible I felt during my divorce and that it’s now a distant memory. My assurances relieve her. I feel good about being supportive. Our bonds deepen in such intimate conversations.

We want to know we’re not alone. Misery indeed loves company, and when we know that our friend’s sister-in-law is an alcoholic, we feel better about our nosy, opinionated mother-in-law. Neither of us has a perfect family and we feel better about that.

We do it out of curiosity. Let’s face it. We’re intrigued when we learn how our friend caught her boyfriend cheating. It’s flat-out interesting. While we don’t wish misery on our friends, when it inevitably comes their way, we want to hear about it. It doesn’t make us bad people. It simply means we’re human.

But there are ways to have friend-in-need conversations that support others and strengthen our connections with them. Here are a few simple guidelines to help negotiate this tricky terrain.

1. Don’t ask, don’t tell. Recently, I was having dinner with a friend who is divorcing after a long-term marriage. I wondered how it was going, but I remembered how, when I was divorcing, I treasured those times when I could relax with a friend and not think about it. So I avoided any topic that might remind her.

It’s so tempting to bring up the juicy topic, but just don’t. We all need down time from our difficulties. We need to relax and enjoy our social encounters. Trust that your friend will talk to you about a problem when and if they are ready.

2. Don’t pour gasoline on the fire. “UGH–what a GIANT drag! What a waste of time that you have to deal with this.” I recently erased those words from a text I was about to send a professor friend who is dealing with a student she suspects of cheating on an exam. She’d asked me for advice. I answered her question and let it go at that. She knows it’s a drag and a waste of time. My reminding her serves no useful purpose. We can be authentically helpful and supportive without inflaming a situation.

3. Don’t mine the conversation for pain. If your friend tells you that her son has gone into rehab, don’t ask what drug he was addicted to or whether insurance is paying for his treatment. Trust that if your friend wants you to know, she will tell you. While human curiosity is normal and natural, there is a time and place for it. This isn’t one of them.

4. Keep it under your hat. Assume everything that a friend in need tells you is absolutely secret. Tell no one, even if you weren’t asked to. You may be tempted to tell your sister that your neighbor’s husband had an affair with the nanny and you might know for a certainty that your sister won’t breathe a word of it to anyone, but just don’t do it.

When we spread stories about our friends in need, we compromise our Integrity–that quality of choosing honesty, principled behavior, and walking our talk. The momentary pleasure of sharing juicy details of another’s life is not worth it. You won’t feel good about yourself in the long run, and you’re letting others know you can’t be trusted with their secrets.

5. Don’t offer advice or suggestions unless you’re asked. Telling your friend with a cheating spouse that you know the best divorce lawyer in town might do more harm than good. Your friend may be hoping for a reconciliation. Such uninvited solutions have the potential to increase a friend’s stress and anxiety and undermine their confidence.

6. Do support their feelings. Whether they’re angry, sad, worried, or anxious, people’s feelings are always valid. Statements like “I understand,” or “I get it,” are far more helpful and supportive than, “Don’t be so sad” or “You don’t have anything to worry about.”
When we affirm another’s feelings we show them that we’re listening and that we understand what they are going through, without adding to their woes. It helps us understand that our feelings are normal and that we’re not alone.

7. Do give the gift of presence. One of the greatest gifts we can offer another is our undivided attention. Put down your cell phone, stop multi-tasking, and really show up to listen. This simple yet powerful act is one of the most precious gifts we can offer a friend in need. Often just “holding space” like this is extraordinarily comforting and healing.

So the next time you’re talking with a friend or family member who has hit a rough patch, remember these simple guidelines. And when you’re the one in need, be sure to reach out and ask for exactly what will help you.

Life’s challenges don’t spare any of us. Having someone supportive accompany us on all or part of that journey can make a huge difference in how well we go through it. We are social creatures, and having friends-in-need when we’re troubled is powerful medicine.

Tags: compassion · connection · stress

Small Connections Can Make a Big Difference

December 10th, 2015 · No Comments

(This article is reprinted from The Huffington Post, where I’m now blogging.)

The day before Thanksgiving, I stood in a long line at LaGuardia Airport waiting for a taxi. I’d flown to New York to spend imagesthe holiday with my family. The couple just ahead of me was finally sent to a taxi, but they quickly returned.

The woman began to shout at the dispatcher. “That driver doesn’t know where we’re going. We’re not riding with her. We have to make a connection.”

Behind her, a frazzled female cabbie was waving her arms and yelling in a thick Russian accent. “I didn’t refuse to take them. I know where we’re going. They didn’t give me a minute to think.”

“We’re not going with her,” the woman said, more loudly than before. “Get us another cab.”

The dispatcher turned to me and asked, “Where are you going?”

His eyes were stony.

“Brooklyn,” I said.

“Go with her.” He pointed to the female cabbie. My heart sunk. She was still waving her arms and trying to be heard above the woman, who was still insisting that they needed another cab.

“I didn’t refuse them,” she yelled over her shoulder as she led me to her cab. “I didn’t refuse.”

I considered going back to the dispatcher to ask for another cab. But before I could, the cabbie grabbed my luggage, stuffed it into her trunk, and slammed down the lid.

She took a few steps in the direction of the dispatcher and yelled again, “I didn’t refuse them.”

The dispatcher waved his arms at her like he was shooing a dog. His face was expressionless.

“Okay,” I said to her firmly. “Please just forget about it. It’s over. I’m with you now.”

She turned to me. Her face was contorted with anguish. “I can get in trouble if I refuse a fare. I didn’t refuse them.”

We got in the cab. She was still muttering about it as we pulled into the heavy traffic. “I can get in trouble. I didn’t refuse them.”

This woman is clearly crazy, I thought. This ride is going to be miserable. She’ll get us in an accident if this continues. I fastened my seat belt and tried to reason with her.

“Well,” I said. “There’s nothing you can do, now. At this point, all you can do is forget it.”

She ignored me and continued to mutter. I contemplated asking her to pull over so I could get out. But we were already on the expressway, in heavy traffic in an area I wasn’t familiar with. I’d just have to hope for the best and see if I could get her to calm down.

“I understand,” I said in the soft, soothing voice I use with upset clients. “But there is nothing you can do right now.”

I might as well have been talking to a wall. Her muttering continued.

I spied a lanyard printed with the words “Albany Law School” hanging from her rearview mirror. I asked her who went to law school.

Her voice softened. “My son. He just passed the bar last week.”

“Wow! Congratulations, Momma,” I said, relieved that I’d distracted her.

For the rest of the ride, we talked. As we did, she relaxed. I learned that she’d emigrated 35 years ago and had driven a cab ever since. Her husband left her when her son was 2 and she raised the boy by herself. We even talked about the incident at the airport and how much pride she took in maintaining a complaint-free record.

I relaxed, too, and observed her impressive driving through the clogged streets. She was by far the most skilled driver I’d been with on that ride I’ve taken dozens of times.

My dislike of her turned to admiration. That same dogged determination with the dispatcher was surely the same quality that had gotten her through what had to be impossibly tough odds–a single immigrant woman with a young child, enduring an arduous job, never giving up.

I recalled my own tough years as a single mother. It was so hard there were times I didn’t know how I could continue. Except that I had two kids, so there was no choice — I had to continue. Yet I was a lawyer with advantages I was sure she could only dream of — a decent income, a comfortable home, household help.

And right before my eyes, this woman transformed from an unpleasant, perseverating crazy person, to a courageous, tenacious champion. I was transformed too. My anxiety about riding with her had vanished. I was relaxed, happy to have met her, and grateful that my trip was off to such an auspicious start.

At the end of the ride, she jumped out of the cab and took my luggage to the sidewalk right in front of my daughter’s apartment. No other cab driver had ever done that for me — they typically just dumped my bags onto the street and took off. I smiled, thanked her, and gave her a generous tip.

The lesson for me was one I continue to experience over and over — the power of social connection is phenomenally transformative, even in brief interludes with strangers. When we can drop our assumptions about others, when we take the time to get to know them, they nearly always magically transform into amazing people.

Social connections transform us, as well. They’re one of the most simple, direct, and important ways we can lift our spirits, improve our physical and mental health, and lengthen our lives. Even a fleeting connection like the one I shared with this cab driver can be powerful.

So as the holidays unfold, and as we shop, travel, and prepare to deck the halls and celebrate, chances are we’ll find ourselves in the company of an unpleasant, frazzled crazy person. If so, perhaps you can find a way to engage with them and connect. You might find, like I did, a wonderful surprise waiting for you both.

Tags: compassion · connection · noticing

Having a hard time letting go of your painful past?

July 2nd, 2009 · No Comments

immaculeeI’ll never complain about anything again, I swear, after spending last weekend reading Left to Tell: Discovering God Amidst the Rwandan Holocaust.  The author, Immaculee Ilibigiza, was just 22 years old when, in 1994, Rwanda suddenly descended into an unspeakably brutal genocide in which machete-wielding Hutus slaughtered nearly a million ethnic Tutsis.

The memoir recounts the brutal murders of Immaculee’s beloved parents and brothers, along with scores of her friends, neighbors and schoolmates.  She escaped her own death only by hiding in silence for three months in a local pastor’s three foot by four foot bathroom with seven other women, only to emerge starving and still in great danger.

This is a deeply moving love story, in which Immaculee transcends her fear and hatred of those who tore her life, her family, and her country apart.  Ultimately, she faces and forgives her family’s killers.  It is a remarkable and inspiring account of unconditional love under the most challenging circumstances imaginable.

And you think you have problems?

That it’s hard to forgive your ex?

That the economy is scary?

That you can’t let go of your dysfunctional childhood?

That life handed you a raw deal?

If you ever have whiney, victim-y thoughts, read this book.  If you hold onto your painful past for any reason, read this book.

You’ll get a new perspective in a flash, I promise.

Tags: compassion · fear · love

Did you make a mistake or get feedback?

May 18th, 2009 · 2 Comments

pregnancy1Last week, the topic of mistakes and failures came up in many client sessions.  It was also a huge topic in several classes I taught.  “I’m afraid I’ll fail,”  “I’m afraid of making a mistake,” and “I can’t let go of my failure or a mistake I made in the past,” were the themes.

This morning a passage in Deepak Chopra’s little book, Creating Affluence, practically jumped off the page at me:  “In reality, there is no such thing as failure. What we call failure is just a mechanism through which we can learn to do things right. . . . This is the principle of feedback.”

There’s nothing really new in the concept that “there is no such thing as failure” or “there are no mistakes,” but I got really excited when I read this.  A huge light flashed on for me:  I have a whole new way to conceptualize setbacks, mistakes, and failures—it’s FEEDBACK.

I’ve spent plenty of time wrestling with being fearful about mistakes, and having utterly no tolerance for my own. When I was beginning my own deep inner work, I remembered that my dear mother (who passed away when I was in my early twenties, so I don’t think she’ll mind my sharing this now) had told me when I was about ten years old that I was “a mistake.”

This was intended to impress upon me the importance, in her view, of not having sex before marriage.  But that’s not what I got from it.  I think that I somehow internalized this message and was extremely intolerant and fearful of making mistakes.  I was dedicated to avoiding mistakes at all costs.

And, even though I’ve made light years of progress in my personal “mistake and failure acceptance,” I’ve never had much of a sense of humor about it until this morning.  It struck me for the first time that I wasn’t a mistake—I was FEEDBACK!

The more I thought about it the funnier it got.  I was notorious as a child for being into everything; incapable of walking, I only ran. Some handful of feedback, eh?  The facts of life being taught to a young, small-town Southern girl, courtesy of a curious toddler who would never be still.  Somehow, being of such great educational value to my mother made the sting of her words completely vanish.

So thanks, Mommy.  Thanks for the lessons we taught each other.  Perhaps our journey together can help someone else.

And now, how about you?

Can you find any more ease, lightness, or humor in your “mistakes” and “failures” if you see them as feedback?

Could you look forward to your new challenges and activities with more excitement, more enthusiasm, if the worst thing that could happen is that you got feedback?

Tags: compassion · fear · laughter · self-criticism