Do you have a minute? Sorry for the Inconvenience.
Wednesday, March 22, 2017 119 Comments
Tough Love Lessons
from an Empathy Deficit Society
© Madelyn Griffith-Haynie, CTP, CMC, ACT, MCC, SCAC
from the Walking a Mile Series – Part I
“There, but for the grace of God, go I”
Not my problem, not my business?
Our society seems to be rapidly moving to a state where it is empathy-averse. The next few posts are my attempt at trying to change that sad reality in some small fashion by telling my personal story. It is time
Many who are still able to care what happens to others take the “wait and see” approach, hoping perhaps that some of the problems will resolve without their involvement.
I have noticed it most overtly in response to current political actions of late, but I have always seen it most pervasively in the continuing lack of Mental Health Awareness.
That attitude troubles me greatly. We need each other, and the quote at the top of this page has never been more apt.
I always planned to speak out about it, once I put my life back together after a horrendous event that all but took it away from me entirely. But there was so much to do in the aftermath that time got away from me.
The attitude I observe, that seems to be increasing since the start of the most recent election cycle, has emboldened me. I think it’s time to put some polish on a few drafts and publish them.
The Value of Personal Stories
Sometimes hearing the stories of people you know, even a little, makes a greater impact than any urging to step up, speak out and make a difference ever could.
So I will be sharing two personal experiences, one a great many years ago and the other only a few. I plan to divide the article into three parts, mindful of the time many of us lack for reading extremely long posts, even though these will be longer than many. They will post on consecutive Wednesdays.
I am posting them NOW to underscore the reason we all need to increase our willingness to get involved before the next DSM is forced to add a new category: EDD – Empathy Deficiency Disorder.
Sympathy vs. Empathy
Sympathy is “feeling sorry for” a person in a particular situation. It is a feeling that allows us to be grateful that we are not the ones going through the experience personally. But it also fosters a pull to allow ourselves to sit back and do nothing to ease the burden for another.
Empathy is “putting ourselves in the shoes of another,” allowing us to imagine what we would find helpful and encouraging, and perhaps to step up to extend support – if only a little bit, and maybe more than that.
Talk and Timing
As I said in one of my updates to an article years ago now, NO contact possible: mugged at gunpoint, modern medicine is very different than the first time I had a broken bone but, unfortunately, bones don’t heal correspondingly rapidly.
My first experience was the result of multiple, serious, spiral fractures to my right leg, many years ago. The damage was the result of a skiing accident that left me unable to get out of bed for a month, in a hip cast for about 8 months, and a leg that was smaller than the diameter of my arm once the cast was finally removed.
The negative impact to my acting career was substantial, but my attitude remained essentially positive – despite a great many challenges – thanks to more than a little help from a small handful of my friends.
This is my story
New York City, where I was living when I broke my leg, was in the middle of a transit strike, and New York cabbies were reluctant to take the time to deal with someone on crutches or in a wheelchair.
- At that time I lived with a godsend of a roommate who stood at the curb to hail a cab while I was hidden from view, so that I could get where I needed to go.
- She also emptied my bedpans for that first bed-ridden month. She kept me company, the bills paid and our services on, and food in my belly.
- At no time – for an entire year – did she display impatience or treat me differently. Nor did she suggest that I pretend that lack of autonomy was less of a struggle for me than it was. She helped me keep my spirits up with conversation and laughter.
- At NO time did she expect that I pretend my situation could be handled by “thinking positively” about it. She understood without having to be reminded, that “motivational” talk of that type would have felt belittling.
- She sat with me patiently during the times I wept over the seeming relentlessness of the situation.
Thank you Janine. I was extremely grateful at the time but, until the contrast of my more recent experience, I had NO idea how very much your help and your attitude made it possible for me to make it through that time emotionally – and whole.
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Additional Thanks to Robin
A dear friend, no longer with us, managed to borrow the wheelchair I could not afford to purchase — before even I realized that I would be needing one.
He didn’t ask me if I wanted him to do so, he simply showed up with it.
Looking through the lens of helping vs. offering to help, he understood how difficult asking for help could be. He empathized with the reality that I was all too aware that the time it took to help me with ANYTHING I could not do myself was an inconvenience in the life of a friend – and that I was reluctant to ask.
However, had I requested that he find a way to handle the mobility problem, he would NEVER have made me feel like my request was too much to add to his very busy life.
And thanks to Andy
Several of the men I was dating at the time “dumped” me because they could not handle the situation. It didn’t fit their image, I suppose, to be seen with “a broken woman” once the crutches I painted black to match my wardrobe became my constant companion — even though the situation was clearly temporary, albeit one that would turn out to last longer than a year before I was completely healed and walking again.
- I am grateful to one brave soul who told me why we would no longer be dating – the one who was with me during the accident, who got me back to my apartment from the upstate hospital in which I spent about a week following the accident.
The others simply did not call again.
- I felt shot at and missed. Thank God I did not attempt to make a life with any of those men. Except for this accident, I might never have known who they really were – or their definitions of “relationship” — until I was much older, when it might have been too late. Still, it was a heartbreaking disappointment at the time.
Lessons in Gratitude and Empathy
I will always be grateful that I did, in fact, heal perfectly. It was touch and go for a time. It has increased my empathy tenfold for those who must live forever with lives that were suddenly altered — and especially for those who have never experienced a life where they didn’t have to work around often considerable challenges.
And several of my dear and wonderful friends taught me those lessons
through their kind – and much needed – actions on my behalf.
Andy, that one exceptionally kind – and extremely strong – man I was dating at the time stepped up. While we eventually decided that we were not life-mates for other reasons, we have remained very good friends, despite the fact that we have not laid eyes on each other in several decades. These days we support each other on the telephone.
At that time, Andy was the supporter and I was the supported.
He got me out of my apartment “prison,” taking me to the Planetarium, to movies, to places he could buy me a glass of wine where my gimpy leg could remain hidden under the table-cloth.
It reminding me that *I* was not broken, even though people spoke differently to me when they could see the cast or watch me approach on crutches.
He carried me down five flights of stairs and into my wheelchair during the many times that the slumlord-managed building elevator failed to work, so that I could get to my monthly Xrays and cast changes. He actually adjusted his work schedule to make sure I did not MISS those appointments.
At NO time did he say, “Tell me if you need anything.” He simply looked at what I was going through and stepped up to help — no decisions on my part beyond what I needed to put on my body to be able to go out.
He carried me back UP those five flights of stairs as well, and went back down to bring up my wheelchair. He pushed me around Central Park on his days off.
For almost a year of HIS very busy life, he made me feel whole. And I appreciate it now in a way I never could have until my experience of being mugged at gunpoint.
INSIDE my apartment, he lifted me into – and out of – a very deep claw-foot tub I could never have navigated otherwise, after helping me wrap my right leg to the hip with a garbage bag so that my cast remained totally dry, my leg hanging off the edge of the tub.
I remained clean throughout the experience, thanks to Andy’s willingness and ability to do for me another of the many things I could not do for myself, even with the help of a very willing roommate.
Even though it could have been awkwardly humiliating, thanks to Andy’s attitude those are actually funny memories – and once I am able to manage it, I may well post some of the pictures we took during that time.
Andy has told me several times over the intervening years that he considered the help he extended to me a good time to get to know me better. He joked about his physical strength giving him “an edge.”
It did – but not nearly as much as the clear demonstrations of his humanity.
Empathy is a trait I have always valued highly and a kindness I have always extended myself — but never so much as after my experience of having it extended to me.
Kindness will always breed kindness.
My subsequent experience was totally different.
In a moment, my life changed forever
I was gang-mugged at gunpoint on December 28th, 2013, if I recall correctly, returning home after grabbing a bite to eat at Skyline Chili, after midnight in a neighborhood reputed to be one of the safest in Cincinnati.
Part II of this article will share some of the details of that experience, so I hope you will come back next Wednesday for the next part of the article (available now at the subtle link immediately above.)
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Shared on the Senior Salon
MANY thanks to Sally G. Cronin for featuring Part I of this article among the others on her Smorgasbord Blogger Daily roundup for the week of March 22nd, 2017. Hop over to learn about a few other posts from bloggers you might enjoy reading – and, whatever your interest, if you aren’t already following Sally you are missing a lot!
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You might also be interested in some of the following articles
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- Brain-based Coaching with Madelyn Griffith-Haynie
- Group Coaching Information LinkList
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Other supports for this article
A Few LinkLists by Category (to articles here on ADDandSoMuchMore.com)
- The Optimal Functioning (Challenges) Series of articles
(about the Inventory & articles from each category)
- The Walking A Mile in Another’s Shoes Series (you are NOT alone here!)
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