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.

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.)

compassion, empathy, kindness, Love, RECK, respect

Parenting with Respect, Empathy, Compassion, and Kindness

Parenting can be a challenge, but it can also be a joy. As parents, we are always searching for tools to help us overcome the challenges and bring us to that place of joy. One set of such tools that has been highly effective for me is learning to parent with respect, empathy, compassion, and kindness (RECK). This transition, which happened gradually for me three years ago over the course of about 18 months, has been absolutely transformational.

The first thing I discovered when I put these tools to use was how often I was completely unempathetic to things my then 6-year-old twins were experiencing. After all, I had been six once myself. And I remember what a strange, magical, and sometimes frightening place the world could be. Harnessing my empathy allowed me to slow down and see things from their perspective. Respect played a part in this too, because first I needed to have a certain amount of respect for the fact that what they were experiencing was very real to them before I could start to empathize with them.

Over time, this experience changed me. I became a much more patient parent. I came to realize that when they didn’t immediately hop-to-it when I asked them to do something it wasn’t because they were defying me, but because they needed a moment to shift gears. Children have full inner lives just like adults and – like adults – children need a moment to process a request, finish up whatever they were doing, and move forward.

For me, compassion was an easy one when something happened to my children physically, but a challenging one when things happened to or within my children emotionally. Compassion, for me, was very much about learning to read my children better. Yesterday, for example, I told my son that I was a little disappointed that he had gone against one of the house rules (it was really just kind of an aside, no big deal). He didn’t react much at first, but about five minutes later he got up from the couch and went to his room. A few years ago I would not have understood what was happening, but thanks to working on my compassionate response I was immediately cued in to the fact that he was beating himself up over what he had done. I went to his room and we had a long talk about the fact that I love him and that he needs to talk to himself the way he would expect a good friend to talk to him. He wouldn’t let a friend speak to him abusively and he shouldn’t speak to himself that way either.

Finally, in all things, I have learned to be kind. The world is a tough place and children need a place to feel safe, secure, and loved. I don’t know about you, but I want that place to be our home. I am constantly conscious of the atmosphere of our home now. If I’m not feeling the love then I make an effort to pump it up. We don’t need to worry about toughening up our children – the world is going to do that to them whether we want it to or not. But we do need to worry about our children’s psychological and emotional well-being. Harm that happens at home and harshness inflicted by a parent can leave scars that last a lifetime. I have adult friends who will testify to this.

In the end, children learn to treat people the way they are treated. If we treat our children with respect, empathy, compassion, and kindness, then we will raise humans who are respectful, empathetic, compassionate, and kind. And isn’t that really what we all want as parents?

Much love to you all,

Matthew Vasko

Founder, Century of Compassion

compassion, empathy, kindness, RECK, respect, Uncategorized

RECK the Holidays for Your Friends and Family!

This Holiday Season, don’t just Deck the Halls, RECK the Halls!

The season of Christmas/Hanukkah/Kwanzaa/New Years and all the other winter holidays is upon us! It’s time for lots of festive gatherings and hopefully lots of fun. Of course, we know that whenever people gather conflict seems inevitable. Someone is certain to bring up politics or make a hurtful comment and things can quickly take a combative tone.

This year, use the principles of RECK to help you navigate those tricky holiday gatherings and prevent you from saying or doing something you’ll regret later. RECK stands for Respect, Empathy, Compassion, and Kindness. Treat all people at the festivities you attend with RECK and things are certain to go better… maybe even the best ever!

Start from a place of respect. Set aside past conflicts and negative feelings and treat everyone respectfully, no matter how they might treat you. You set the tone. Make it clear that you are willing to be respectful no matter what. This typically means observing the Golden Rule and treating everyone the way you would like to be treated. Do your best to be aware of what sets other people off and try not to broach sensitive subjects. For example, if your cousin has been out of work for six months then focus on topics other than your new promotion or how great your job is going.

Next, keep your sense of empathy active and do your best to be empathetic with everyone. Make an effort to gauge the emotions of other people in the room and meet them where they are. For example, if one of your friends just lost a parent this year you might share how difficult your first holiday season was after your parent passed, or ask them how they are doing. Be sensitive to other people’s feelings and do your best to help lift their spirits if they are feeling down… not everyone feels joyful around the Holidays.

When appropriate, make an effort to be compassionate. Again, the Holiday Season can be difficult for some people, especially if they have recently experienced a loss. This can also be true for someone who has recently experienced a break up. If your sister and her boyfriend recently broke up, then do your best to give your sister a little extra attention this year. Spend time talking with her at family gatherings and maybe even give her a call on New Year’s Eve just to let her know you’re thinking of her. Loneliness is worse around the Holidays, so help people you think might be lonely to feel less so.

Finally, in all situations: Be kind. Kindness matters. And it especially matters around the Holidays. You will get so much further with everyone from new acquaintances to close family members by being kind to them. Especially, with family members with whom you have had tension in the past. Being kind to people works like a salve or balm on old wounds. With kindness and time even the deepest of wounds can heal. So, if you and your uncle have always been at odds, surprise him by treating him like your new best friend and he might just return the same back to you.

Make “respect, empathy, compassion, kindness” your Holiday mantra. Repeat it to yourself as you make your way to even the most stressful of Holiday gatherings, and I guarantee that you will have a merrier and more joyful Holiday Season as a result!

Peace and good fortune to you this Holiday Season and always,

Matthew Vasko

Founder, Century of Compassion