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, 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

compassion, empathy, kindness, Love, RECK, respect, Uncategorized

We Need a Revolution of Connection

Do you ever feel a longing for connection? Real connection? More than another text or email, or even another casual conversation? In our fast-paced, screen-time-heavy world, it seems like we are drifting further and further apart from one another.

This is not to say that we have ever been that socially connected in my lifetime. A child of the 80’s, I feel like I was practically raised by the television – long before smart phones came along demanding our attention.

Perhaps there was a time when communities were closer knit, but it hasn’t been in my lifetime. Essentially, I find myself longing for some Utopian past I never knew. Or perhaps it never really existed to begin with. Who knows.

But here’s the thing. It sure does seem like we could reduce the amount of conflict in the world if people would just sit down and talk to one another. How are we ever going to work out our differences if we keep splitting ourselves into smaller and smaller factions?

We need a revolution of connection! Meaningful connection – deep conversations where we work through our misunderstandings and disagreements. This is the kind of connection where trust is built and where genuine community takes shape.

Our fast-paced, cold, indifferent world needs reflection on connection, a Renaissance of nuance, and a renewed unity of community!

And of course I feel compelled to add that as we undergo this revolution of connection, we must strive to treat one another with respect, empathy, compassion, and kindness. Honestly, I find these qualities lacking in our modern world as well. We are all perfectly capable of treating one another better, but it takes self control and a determination of will. It begins with us wanting to do better.

So, find ways to connect with others in a meaningful way. Unplug. Get real face-to-face time with others. Schedule unstructured time with your family with no screens and lots of conversation. Go out for lunch and coffee with friends. Make time for connection.

Join a church, social organization or bowling league. Heck, join a group you disagree with and work towards changing them from the inside. Just get out there!

Real connection takes real effort, and it is worth it. It pays big dividends with regard to improved mental and emotional health.

So, answer your inner call – your yearning – for connection. Let the revolution begin! And you’ll be glad you did.

Love to you, always.

Matthew Vasko

Founder, Century of Compassion

compassion, empathy, kindness, Love, Obliterate Hate, RECK, respect

The Antidote to Hate

In my last blog post, I made the argument that we humans as a species need to evolve beyond hate. Hatred simply does not serve us anymore. It causes death and destruction, and ultimately holds us back from ever achieving any kind of lasting peace.

When it comes to finding ways to reduce hate, we must be students of respect, empathy, compassion, and kindness (RECK). When combined, these values can help us to reduce the hatred within ourselves and between individuals, societies, and cultures. RECK can, essentially, be an antidote to hate.

Let’s start with respect. While it is true that humans often respect their enemies, that kind of respect comes from fear of an enemy’s power. That’s not the kind of respect that I’m referring to. I’m referring to respect for life. We must first acknowledge that all life is sacred. All life has value. It is wrong to kill. We must have a basic level of respect for all human beings that makes us respect and value life. We must be able to say that everyone has the right to live in peace – even people with whom we disagree. This level of respect will help us reduce our hatred by at least a little bit, by at least enough that we don’t want to kill our enemies or those for whom we feel hatred.

Next, we must tap into our empathy. We must try to empathize with people for whom we feel hateful feelings in order to try to understand what it is about them that makes them perhaps hate us or feel malice toward us. Often, when we stop to think about why someone might hold negative feelings towards us, we think that surely it must be because they misunderstand us or our intentions. Perhaps we misunderstand them too! Perhaps if we got to know them better then we would not hate them. Upon reflection, we would probably conclude that they are ultimately not that different from us. They probably want many of the same things we want. Things like peace, life, love, happiness, security, and well being for themselves and their loved ones.

Now, we move on to compassion. Surely, we can recognize that all living beings suffer. And if we suffer then the people we feel hatred towards surely experience suffering too. Think about what kind of suffering they might have. It may be possible that we have done something to cause their suffering. We need to search within our hearts, and through our empathy connect with the suffering people with whom we disagree might be feeling. Our compassion can move us to want to relieve this suffering. Perhaps there is something we can do to help this person or these people so that they will not suffer so badly. If we help to reduce their suffering then they might no longer feel malice towards us. Or at least not as much. Compassion can help us to feel less hatred. Compassion can help us turn hatred into love.

Finally, let’s look to kindness. There is an interesting quality to kindness. It is this: when we are kind to people it makes us like them more. Have you ever noticed this? It’s true. When we behave kindly towards people we dislike or even hate, we come to like them better. Also, when we are kind to others it increases the chances that they will be kind to us in return. Kindness begets kindness. And so it goes, on and on, and kind acts build relationship and good feelings.

This is how RECK can serve as an antidote to hate. We must teach our children to have RECK for all, and by doing so, we can help them to love all people and help them not to hate. Also, if we practice RECK, it might help other adults to practice RECK in turn. And over time these positive acts will grow and multiply. Over time… years and even decades… we can continue to reduce the hate in the world until we have wiped it away for good. It will take time and practice, but it can be done.

Practice RECK for all. And you will see positive results in your life and in the world around you.

Peace.

Matthew Vasko

Founder, Century of Compassion

compassion, empathy, kindness, Love, respect

All You Need is RECK

Have you ever come home after a hard day in the grumpiest of moods? You walk in the door, greet your family with a grumble, and then proceed to bark, snap, and maybe even yell at them for the rest of the evening?

Once you are feeling better, you might wonder why you treated them that way. After all, they are the ones you love the most and you might have treated them worse than you treated anyone else all day. “Next time,” you think, “I resolve to do better.”

Love is a wonderful thing. We are fortunate when we have people in our lives whom we love and who love us in return. But there aren’t really any ground rules to love, are there? We sort of have to make it up as we go along and we can probably think of some examples of times when we feel like maybe we weren’t loved properly. Perhaps our parents loved us, but they were highly judgmental of us. Or perhaps we had a romantic partner who loved us, but was controlling.

We need to be careful about love, because love done improperly can be harmful and a source of pain. This is where RECK comes in. RECK stands for respect, empathy, compassion, and kindness. It can be helpful to roll those four values over in your mind while you are thinking about how you want to treat the people you love.

Personally, I believe that we should treat all people with respect, empathy, compassion, and kindness. And I believe most strongly that we should treat the people we love this way. This way, we will love them in a way that is tender and caring. We will love them in a way that heals and does not harm.

If you resolved to treat your family – the people you love the most – with RECK, then even when you come home on your very worst day in the grumpiest of moods, you will still be respectful, empathetic, compassionate, and kind towards them. You will still seek first to be gentle, because kindness and compassion call us to be gentle. You will not yell, or bark, or snap, you will give hugs and support.

The beauty of RECK is that it doesn’t simply say “love one another,” it tells us how to love one another. First, be respectful – don’t trample all over people’s feelings and concerns, have respect for them. Next, be empathetic – treat the people you love the way you sense they need to be treated, try to get an idea of what is going on with them. Then, have compassion – maybe the people you love had hard days too, maybe they need some tenderness and affection. Finally, and at all times, be kind – it can be challenging to be kind when we are in a bad mood, but it is possible – we need to learn to control our emotions instead of letting our emotions control us.

This is RECK. This is what it’s all about. Keep those four values at the front of your mind and I promise you that they will not let you down. They will help you build a better life – both for yourself and for the people you love.

With love,

Matthew Vasko

Founder, Century of Compassion