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empathy

How to Better Empathize with Black People Right Now

NOTICE: This post contains an imagery exercise that might be triggering for some people.

RESPECTFULLY: There is detailed description of the events surrounding George Floyd’s death. No disrespect is meant towards Mr. Floyd or anyone else. An effort is being made to help people empathize with Mr. Floyd and others.


6/2/20

This post is intended for White people who don’t consider themselves racist, but who are having trouble understanding why Black Americans are angry, and why some events are happening in our country right now. I am writing this as a White person who hopes to be of service to other White people who have a genuine interest in wanting to better comprehend everything that’s going on. I am not an expert on race, but I am an educator on empathy, and will be using this as our inroad.

First, a little context. I think it’s important to understand that George Floyd‘s death did not happen in a vacuum. It was not a singular event. Mr. Floyd’s death while in police custody happened as part of an ongoing series of events in which excessive force was used against Black people by police. And that has been happening inside of a larger context of inequality for Blacks in America. This is all part of a 400 year history of oppression of Black people in the United States of America. That’s a lot to try to keep in mind, but it’s helpful to accept that history in order for us to properly set the stage for what happened to George Floyd and how Black Americans are reacting to it.

Now, let’s take a look at what happened to George Floyd. The police suspected him of using fake money. So, they took him into custody. Try now to get the mental picture of Mr. Floyd lying on the ground in handcuffs. While lying on his stomach with his face against the pavement, a White police officer knelt on his neck. This is a fact. It was caught on video. If you are having trouble empathizing with how it might make a Black person feel to see video footage of this, instead of picturing George Floyd on the ground in handcuffs, picture someone you love.

Do you love your father, or your brother? If you love your brother, instead of picturing George Floyd on the ground, picture your brother on the ground in handcuffs. Now, picture someone kneeling on his neck. Your brother does not fight. He does not resist. He simply says, “I can’t breathe.” Now, wouldn’t you expect the police officer to get off of your brother’s neck? What if instead of getting off your brother’s neck, that police officer stayed on your brother’s neck? What if he stayed there for nine minutes while onlookers tried to help your brother, and other police officers stopped them from helping him. Does this make you angry? If you love your brother then chances are that this thought is making you angry. Now imagine that your brother later died. Now I bet you’re really angry.

This is what we White people need to do. We need to picture these events happening to our brothers or our fathers, or other people we love. Because, when Black people see video of these incidents they are picturing it happening to their brothers and their fathers and maybe even to them. Imagine if you were watching this video and something similar had actually happened to you before. That experience might really be triggering.

It is possible to us White people to better understand the feelings of Black people right now, and our empathy can help us to do that. We need to tap into our empathy and our compassion. Now that you have imagined that it was your brother who died at the hands of the police, imagine that it happened to your cousin last year and a friend of a friend the year before that. Now you might be getting really angry. Now you might be so angry that you feel like marching in the streets!

Now, imagine that you have been marching in the streets asking for police reform for over half a decade and yet these killings continue to happen. That might make you think of upping the stakes a little bit, right? When peaceful protest doesn’t work, you might consider turning to other actions to get attention for your cause… to make people listen. You might be wondering, “What do I need to do to get people’s attention already?!”

This is where we are. Black people are fed up. They started marching in the streets over all of this back when Barack Obama was still president. Now, here we are half a dozen years later and there still has not been any meaningful police reform on a national level. Black people still continue to die at a disproportionate rate to other members of the population.

Here are a couple of other things that might help you empathize with Black people right now. First, we are all human beings. Even though we look different, we are all the same on the inside. What is happening to Black people is happening to human beings who want many of the same things you do. They want to be free to live their best life. They want safe neighborhoods and communities. They want to love and be loved. Also, as stated earlier, Black people are dying in disproportionate numbers at the hands of police, but people of every race are getting killed due to excessive use of force. It’s happening to White people to, just not as much.

So, it is good for everyone to work towards police reform. It will serve us all in the end. A safer system of policing for Black people means safer policing for all people. And that’s a good thing, right? We can have positive change that is positive for all. So, use your empathy to connect with Black people during this crucial time. Get on board with making a brighter future for everyone. Black lives matter because all lives matter.

All the best to you.

With love,

Matthew Vasko

Founder, Century of Compassion

Postscript: This was a really difficult post for me to write. And I am deeply sorry if it upsets anyone – especially anyone of color. I truly love all people and want very much for all types of folks to be able to better empathize and connect with one another. I truly believe that respect, empathy, compassion, and kindness are keys to a brighter future for all.

caring, compassion

It’s Compassionate to Wear a Mask

I’m struggling with the reality that wearing a mask during a viral pandemic has somehow become a political act. It truly doesn’t seem like it should be one. Here’s the simple fact of the matter: Wearing a mask will help protect others from catching the coronavirus if you have it (even if you are asymptomatic – meaning that you don’t know you have it, but you can give it to others). It’s not political; it’s medical science.

It’s the same reason that doctors and nurses have worn masks during surgery for a million years. They wear masks to protect the patient from their germs – not the other way around. Cloth masks are not worn to protect ourselves, they are worn to protect others from us.

Yet, somehow this fact of medical science has been politicized. Which is unfortunate, because here’s the thing: facts are just facts. They don’t pledge allegiance to a particular ideology or political party. They just are. And feeling like a fact is socialist doesn’t change the fact. It still is. And it’s not going to change simply because a person doesn’t like it very much.

And the fact that wearing a mask will help prevent you from giving the coronavirus to someone who might die from it makes wearing a mask an act of compassion. That is a truth. It is a truth based upon fact and it is unarguable. Wearing a mask says, “I care about you and I don’t want to make you sick.”

You might not like the truth that wearing a mask is an act of compassion and caring, but that doesn’t make it any less true. It still is. Caring about others is caring about others is caring about others. It doesn’t change based upon your political ideology.

Universal adherence to mask wearing will help slow the spread of the novel coronavirus. That’s a good thing. That’s a fact. If we all pitch in and do our part we can help to keep each other healthy. Yay us! Go humans!

So, please don’t think of wearing a mask as a liberal thing or a conservative thing. It’s neither. It is simply an act of compassion and caring that says, “I am doing my part to help keep us all as safe as possible during this pandemic.”

If it makes you feel better to wear a mask with an American flag on it, then do that. You can get one here. But wear a mask. Help to keep the most vulnerable among us safe. Be a hero. We believe in you.

As always, much love to you. Be well.

Matthew Vasko

Founder, Century of Compassion

compassion, RECK

Is Your Compassion at 11?

These are highly unusual times. This pandemic has many – if not all – of us on edge. We are worried about our families and loved ones, friends and acquaintances, coworkers and community members. And as we feel this compassion for the people we care about, it seems like it easily flows to others we hear about on the news or social media who are sick or laid off, working in hospitals or working essential jobs and putting their health on the line for the betterment of all. Plus, there is overlap between all of these groups. So, it might be a friend who is sick or an acquaintance who is working in a hospital.

My point here is this: It seems like almost anyone and everyone is relatable to us right now. We are all in this together. We are all going through a shared experience. And this seems to have had the effect of increasing our empathy and thereby our compassion for one another.

In the classic comedy “This Is Spinal Tap“, while describing his heavy metal band’s amplifiers, Christopher Guest states the famous line, “These go to eleven.” Doesn’t it feel right now as if your compassion is turned to 11? Like you feel for everyone everywhere and want so much for everyone to be well and for this terrible time to come to an end?

Our compassion is turned to 11. We are feeling deeply. Hoping greatly. I’m seeing it everywhere I look. On social media I see people being kinder to one another. More respectful. More caring. If you go out for a walk you might find that the people you pass on the other side of the street give you a friendly wave and maybe even smile and say hi.

And these are just the common occurrences. There are also tremendous acts of kindness and compassion. Parades of cars being formed to celebrate children’s birthdays. People singing from windows. Police departments showing up outside hospitals to cheer on healthcare workers.

There is a beauty in it. Yes, there is pain too. But there is beauty in this heightened compassion and greater empathy. While we are here, while it is happening, the first thing I wanted to do was to identify it. Look at us. Look what we are capable of. Look how good we can be to one another. We can get along. We can care more for one another. We can help support one another and cheer each other on. Go humanity!

Next, I want to say this: practice self care. Compassion fatigue is a real thing. This heightened sense of caring and loving is sustainable, but you have to take care of yourself and manage your own well-being. Humans simply aren’t designed to give and give without taking a little something back to help keep us going. So, take a little time for yourself. Don’t give all of yourself away. It seems like our experience with this pandemic might last a while so care for your heart so that you don’t get overwhelmed or exhausted. Practice the items I mentioned in my last post.

Finally: Dream of a brighter future. Who says that we ever need to go back to the way things were? Yes, of course I want things go back to normal with regard to seeing an end to this pandemic. But what if we don’t need to see an end to caring more for and about one another? Perhaps… now that we have been here… now that we have experienced this.. maybe just maybe this level of caring for one another can be the new normal. RECK can be the way of the future. It’s happening. A society filled with respect, empathy, compassion, and kindness is happening right now. And we can keep it this way. We can continue this well into the future. We just need to want to hold on to it. To continue to build upon it. To make RECK for all the new normal.

Thank you for reading. Thank you for turning your compassion to 11. And thank you for joining me in working towards a brighter future. Follow our RECK Pact page on Facebook for more daily inspiration.

All the best,

Matthew Vasko

Founder, Century of Compassion

Well-Being

6 Tips for Maintaining Emotional Health During Social Distancing

These are challenging times. People the world over are under quarantinedistancing ourselves physically so we can help to slow the spread of the novel coronavirus. This means spending most – if not all – of our time in our homes. While we are grateful not to be infected with the virus, we might not be so grateful for this type of existence.

Psychiatrist Viktor Frankl famously said, “everything can be taken from a [person] but one thing: the last of the human freedoms – to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one’s own way.” Keeping a positive attitude in difficult situations can take a lot of self-management. And there are techniques you can use and habits you can form that will help. I’ve done the research and here are six proven strategies that will help you through this difficult time:

1. Develop a Gratitude Practice: First, I highly recommend developing a daily gratitude practice. It might seem strange that I’m suggesting gratitude during a time when there seems to be less to be grateful for than normal, but that’s exactly why it is so important. Having a daily gratitude practice will serve you best on days when there is the very least to be grateful for. Gratitude helps us cull out the one bright spot in a day filled with darkness. Something you could try is keeping a gratitude journal by the side of your bed. Before you go to bed, challenge yourself to write down five things you were grateful for that day. Then, the next morning wake up and read them to start your day on an up note.

2. Keep a Daily Routine: The next thing I suggest – and I think this is especially helpful for those of us with kids at home – (but if you don’t have kids that doesn’t mean you should stop reading) is to create and keep a daily routine. Even if you are at home with nothing to do, it’s helpful to have a routine. Wake up every day at the same time. Get dressed. Eat breakfast. Exercise. If this time of staying at home stretches on for a while you will probably find that the days when you feel like adhering to your routine the least are the days when you need it the most. Routine gives your days structure and helps to keep you on track.

3. Create and Maintain a Sense of Purpose: It’s scientifically proven that having a sense of purpose helps people maintain good mental health. One thing I’ve seen suggested to help give us all a sense of purpose during this time is to make a list of all the people you care about and every day choose one person on your list to check on. You can call, text, or Skype, but the important thing is to make yourself useful. Be the shoulder someone else can cry on. Be the listening ear. Be the sounding board. I always say if you are having trouble finding a sense of purpose in life then go be of service to someone else. Even if all you are doing is listening, you are helping.

4. Practice Mindfulness: Mindfulness can vastly improve your attitude and sense of well-being. It can be spiritual in nature, or it can simply be pragmatic. One mindfulness practice that is simple but effective is to practice mindful eating. You might try it with one meal a day. Simply choose to put your full attention on your meal. Slow down. Focus on the smells, the flavors, the textures. Focus on the act of chewing and swallowing. When you practice mindfulness intentionally some of the time you will find that you are more in tune with your body, mind, and environment all of the time. You’ll find that you take more pleasure in the little pleasures, and maybe that the big pains don’t seem so big.

5. Develop a Spiritual Practice: Some people find that creating and maintaining a practice that is spiritual to them helps to maintain good mental health. Meditation to be a highly accessible and effective spiritual practice. Meditation can be as simple as sitting quietly and focusing upon your breathing. But if you’re having trouble getting started, you might try searching the app store with the term “meditation” (“Calm” is one app that gets high marks) or tracking down some guided meditation tracks on your favorite music app.

6. Practice RECK: Finally, if you are at home with other people, I highly recommend using this increased time together to practice your RECK. If you’re familiar with this site, then you might remember that RECK stands for respect, empathy, compassion, and kindness. The point of RECK is that it’s easy to remember, because it can take a surprisingly high amount of discipline to practice. If you doubt this, then take a moment to reflect upon the last time that you were either disrespectful, unempathetic, uncompassionate, or simply unkind to one or more of your housemates. You might not need to reflect back very far. The idea of RECK is to help us love one another properly.

Start from a place of respect. Do your best to be respectful of other people’s feelings. If you must fight, then fight fair – don’t say anything that you’ll wish you could take back later. Maybe hold back that real zinger you know you could use but shouldn’t.

Then, make an effort to be empathetic with the people you’re spending your time with. Are you making an effort to see things from their perspective? Keep in mind that this means going beyond mere sympathy which means to feel for others to making the effort to actually feel with them. That’s empathy – to feel what they are feeling; to feel with.

Next, keep your compassion switch in the “on” position. Don’t discount other people’s suffering… rather make an effort to try to relieve it. I find this especially effective with children – even if you are merely helping them learn to help themselves. Their suffering is real to them, and your compassion is real to them too.

Last, but certainly not least, in all things and at all times… be kind. It’s simple to comprehend, but hard do. It means not taking our feelings out on others. Sometimes, we might get irritated, but taking our irritation out on others is unkind – no matter now innocent or justified it might seem at the time. Being kind helps to maintain a positive environment for everyone.

There they are! Six proven strategies to help you stay positive and maintain good emotional health during these challenging times. Pick one or try all six and see how they go. Report back in the comments!

All the best,
Matthew Vasko
Founder, Century of Compassion

compassion, empathy, family, kindness, Love, RECK, respect

Stuck at Home with Family? Practice RECK!

These are unusual times. The novel Coronavirus has more and more states telling people to stay at home and requiring Physical Distancing if we must go out. This puts many of us in a situation where we are “Safer at Home” with the people we love… and getting on each other’s nerves!

Never fear! RECK is here! To save you having to click over to another page to discover what the heck RECK is, I’ll take a moment to explain it here. RECK is an acronym that stands for respect, empathy, compassion, and kindness. It is meant as a simple guide to help us treat others in the best way possible. And don’t we want to treat the people we love most in the whole world in the best way possible? Of course we do.

Think of it this way: all people need respect, empathy, compassion, and kindness in order to stay emotionally healthy. When you think about harm that has been done to people, in every instance, one or more of these four principles has been violated. In family situations, most typically the principle we forget to adhere to is to be kind to one another.

Here’s how to utilize RECK at home during this unusual time:

First, do your best to remain respectful towards your family members at all times. This can be a tough one, especially when we are feeling irritable. Disrespectful words are usually those words that we end up regretting later. When it comes to trying to create a harmonious home atmosphere, being disrespectful is a line we simply should not cross. Being respectful towards your family all the time will help you maintain a healthy self-respect. When you are respectful to others, you feel good about yourself.

Next, make an effort to be empathetic towards the feelings of others. This one can be especially challenging with young children. They tend to feel things strongly and are often unable to completely articulate or even understand their feelings. As adults, we have an important role to play in helping them identify their emotions and learn to understand and control them. Remember, empathy is deeper than sympathy. Sympathy is to feel for someone, while empathy requires us to go even further and feel with them. A good way to understand empathy is to remember the adage of walking a mile in someone else’s shoes.

Then, strive to always keep your compassion switch in the “on” position. This is a tall order. Compassion calls us to feel another person’s suffering with them and then work to relieve it. Compassion, however, is a game-changer for children. Kids feel so often misunderstood and like their suffering is ignored. As adults, we can sometimes wish children would simply “get over it.” But we need to remember that their feelings are very real to them and when we take them seriously and respond to them, children feel heard. Although perhaps more pronounced in children, this is true for all people. And during these stressful times, lots of people might be feeling strong emotions. We all would be well served to hear one another out, take each other’s feelings to heart, and make an effort to provide comfort whenever possible.

Finally, in all situations and at all times: Be kind. If you think this one is easy or trivial, then think back to the last time that you know you hurt someone else’s feelings whether they said so or not. You might not have to think back very far! Kindness is the grease that oils the gears of healthy family dynamics. Being unkind is like throwing a wrench in the works. How often has everything been going just fine at home and then someone did or said something unkind and all heck broke loose? Kindness is the key to unlocking family harmony.

If your family is struggling to get along right now, then make a big sign that says “RECK: Respect, Empathy, Compassion and Kindness” and put it up someplace everyone can see it. Then, make sure everyone knows what all of those words mean and make a promise to treat each other with RECK. You’ll be amazed by how much better everyone gets along.

All the best,

Matthew Vasko,

Founder, Century of Compassion

connection, empathy

Not Social Distancing: Physical Distancing

Image: David Ramos/Getty Images


 

Dear world, can we please stop calling it “Social Distancing?” As human beings, we all need social contact to maintain emotional health. This Coronavirus pandemic sucks and using the term Social Distancing repeatedly isn’t helping things any. In our house, we’ve taken to using the term “Physical Distancing” to both better describe what it is we are doing and to remind ourselves that even while physically apart from our friends and extended family we can remain socially close.

Personally, I am making an effort to reach out to all sorts of people in my social sphere to see how people are doing and provide emotional support where I can. I imagine that most people are doing something similar, as we should be. And as the weeks grind on and we spend more time isolated from many of the people with whom we usually spend time, I sure we’ll continue to think of creative ways to connect.

Already this week I’ve Skyped, FaceTimed, Zoomed, texted, messaged, and phoned all sorts of people from coworkers to family members to friends with whom I’d fallen out of touch. And I plan to keep it up. I’m also making an effort to set up Skype sessions between my kids and their friends as sort-of virtual play dates. All of this is important. Each interaction helps. And it’s all social.

Each day, my family is getting out for a morning walk and waving at neighbors and exchanging pleasantries from a safe distance. Again, physically we are separated, but socially we are close.

If anything, it feels like the whole world is drawn closer by our common shared experience with this pandemic. We see videos on social media of Italians singing from their balconies and medical professionals dancing in full protective gear. Commonality builds empathy, and before this is over, every single one of the nearly eight billion people on planet Earth will be able to empathize with what it was like to have battled this novel Coronavirus.

So, let’s all make an effort to remain socially close while we practice Physical Distancing. And – as has become my catch phrase: Stay safe. Stay healthy.

With Love,

Matt Vasko

Founder, Century of Compassion

(Postscript: My heart goes out to each and every person who has, is, or will suffer from COVID-19. Please know that you are in my thoughts. Much love to anyone the world over who has lost someone to this terrible disease.)

family

Tips for Families During Social Distancing

These are unusual times. Even us parents have probably never experienced anything quite like this before. So, it seems perfectly normal and understandable if our children are anxious. Personally, I have 9-year-old twins at home and they are experiencing a variety of emotions from anxiety to boredom.

My goal with the materials included below is to provide parents with tools to help their families “weather the storm.” I hope you find both spiritual and practical resources here to help you and your children cope. My best wishes to everyone during this time.

With love,

Matt Vasko

Founder, Century of Compassion

 

SPIRITUALITY & PRAYER:

This can be a time for families to deepen their home spiritual practices. Here are some resources to help you in that meaningful work:

1. The Unitarian Universalist Association (a big tent of belief) has an entire guide devoted to family spiritual practices; everything from ritual to crafts to alter building. Click here to view their guide.

2. Foothills Unitarian offers this nice page on prayer complete with a prayer bead necklace activity and a UU Family Prayer Sampler.

3. Beacon Unitarian Universalist Congregation has this page devoted to prayer before meals.

4. My family has a daily gratitude practice that we say before dinner. It goes like this: “We are grateful for everything and everyone we have in our lives and we promise to take care of all of it and all of them.” Then, we go around the table and say at least one thing (but usually 2 or 3 things) each of us is grateful for that day. It can be anything from the nice weather, to a kind word from a friend, to each other. If you start a practice like this now, I assure you that you will find that hard times are the times when gratitude for the good things and people we have in our lives really helps strengthen our spirits.

 

TEACHING TOLERANCE AND SOCIAL JUSTICE (From Momtivist)

1. Check out these amazing lesson plans on Tolerance.org. You can filter them by grade level – they’re designed for kindergarten through High School. Lots of great ideas that were designed for the classroom but can easily be scaled to work at home.

2. Find books that promote tolerance, spotlight underrepresented groups, counter racism, explore gender identity, etc., and read them with your kids! Consider creative activities around anything you read, like writing stories or puppet shows using the books as inspiration. This is a great resource for age appropriate books on all of these topics.

3. Play games learning about important women in history! We love the Little Feminists Memory Game.

4. Try out games, recipes and activities from around the world! Great way to learn about other cultures while having fun. This $10 deck is chock full of great ideas.

 

NETWORKING:

Social distancing does not have to mean social isolation!!

Face Time: Do you Facetime? Or Skype? Or Zoom? I believe that as cabin fever sets in children are going to be jonesing for connection with their friends and other caring adults in their lives. A 10-minute Facetime session with someone outside the home could really help brighten your child’s day.

Virtual Pen Pals: You can let your child draw a picture or write a note to someone and then text or email a photo of it to them. They can come up with creative ways to reply.

Virtual Story Time: This is a spin on face time. Have grandma, grandpa, an aunt, or uncle do a Skype session with your child and have them read your child a picture book they have around their house. Chances are that they own some different books than you do, and your child will get to hear and see a new book. My kids’ Uncle Jim used to do this with my twins from across the country when they were little, and they LOVED it.

Phone Calls: Make a list of people who haven’t heard from your children in a while and have your kids give them a call! The other person will probably delight at the surprise and your kids will learn proper phone etiquette. Seriously, do kids even know how to use phones anymore?

 

GAMES!

The number of family games available on Amazon.com are astounding. Not to be a commercial for Amazon, but with Prime shipping your family could be playing a new game every two days. Here are some of my family’s favorites:

Uno: This classic card game still keeps kids entertained for hours. And now there are even some wild variations on the game available like Uno Flip and Uno Attack.

Ticket to Ride: We started playing this exciting board game with our kids when they were in first grade and the whole family loves it. Essentially, you use train cards to build routes across the country. It’s great.

Catan: Children probably need to be in about second or third grade to really get this game, but it’s a lot of fun for children and adults alike. You collect cards to build and settle an island. It’s a bit hard to learn, but hours and hours of engaging fun. Watch out for the robber though… he’s the worst.

Xtronaut: Do you have an engineering-minded child? If so, then they’ll really enjoy this game that requires them to collect cards to “build” a rocket and launch it into space. It’s suitable for children in who are in second grade and up.

 

EDUCATION:

For virtual learning resources, I really only need to direct you to one resource. Someone has put together a vast spreadsheet of all of the virtual resources that are being offered free-of-charge during the this time.

 

YOUTUBE:

Your children might be watching more television than normal during this time. Well, I have good news. If you have a ROKU or similar device there are lots of educational channels on YouTube.

Here is a list of some of my kids’ favorites: It’s Okay to be Smart, Vsauce, ASAPScience, Crashcourse, SciShow, SciShowKids, SciShowSpace, MinutePhysics, MinuteEarth, MrDemaio, SesemeStreet, WorldWorldPBS, SmartGirls, HoustonZoo, TheBrainScoop and NASA

And here is a link to even more.

 

OUTSIDE!

Fortunately, one thing you can do while practicing social distancing is to get out into the great outdoors!

Gardening: My family is using this time to really get this year’s garden going. If you have space for a garden – or even a container garden – now could be a good time to get that garden going.

Painting Rocks: I borrowed this one from Momtivist – Decorate rocks (we recommend paint or glitter glue) with positive messages and/or drawings and leave them where other people will see them. Brainstorm with your child about what kind of images and messages might make people happy.

Explore Nature: If you have a magnifying glass, you can turn a young child loose in nature for seemingly forever and that magnifying glass will open up a whole new world of nature to them. Binoculars can have a similar effect, but they might need more help using them.

Go for a Hike! Or even just a walk around the block. Even though my family is staying home we still plan to get out for a walk each morning. Metro and regional parks can be a great place to really get out and stretch your legs, and they’re usually not too far from home.

 

HOW ABOUT YOU?

That’s my list. How about you? Do you have any recommendations to help families during this time? If so, please share them in the comments.