One of the kids was not behaving well last night. Just not themselves. Even at bedtime, when there is often a ‘thin place’ created and things pour out of them, there was nothing. It was odd. Odd enough that H and I commented to each other about it. And then at 3 in the morning the call came. First it was ‘Dad, I don’t feel well, can you get me a bowl please.’ Then a little later it was ‘Dad, I’ve been sick’. In that moment, all the earlier behaviours made sense. There was more going on than we realised.
This is true everyday with the people we interact with. There is always more going on than we realise. And often it is only later, after we realise, that we can connect the dots. The challenge of empathy is attempting to put ourselves in the other’s situation, including their history. The thing affecting them, may not be a challenge for us, but clearly it is for them. Brushing it off or downplaying it only makes it worse.
Too often our resposne is a chest beating, macho, belittling and blaming response rather than an empathetic one. And just to be clear, being empathetic does not mean we can not hold each other accountable. It does mean our accountability is accompanied by grace. And empathy can go both ways. My boss or client has her own needs and so in my empathy towards her, I need to talk with her. Perhaps, I need to be able to either share what the ‘more than we realise’ and admit that while I may want to do something, someone else is better placed to do it.
How can we remember those we interact with today, have more than we realise going on beyond what they show us?