As I finished Ann Lamott’s latest book, Almost Everything, I realized her passage on empathy provided a wonderful transition from the “they” concept of business leadership I discussed last week to the “we” concept of engaging with those immediately around us.
Empathy is a useful tool we can “practice” with our friends and families this week so it’s even more effective professionally.
“Empathy says: You and I are made of the same lovely, heartbroken, and screwed-up stuff. You are not an object to me right now. (Maybe I’m not, either! Let me get back to you on this.) Empathy, a moment’s compassion, seeing that everyone has value, even people who have behaved badly, is as magnetic a force as gratitude. It draws people to us, thus giving us the capacity to practice receiving love, the scariest thing of all, and to experience the curiosity of a child. And, as it turns out, the family is the most incredible, efficient laboratory, in which we can learn to work out the major blocks to these, which of course we got from the family in the first place. If we do the forgiveness work, forgiving our families and ourselves, they become slightly less “them,” and we become slightly more “we.” It’s ultimately about reunion. You might as well start this process at the dinner table. That way you can do this work, for which you were born, in comfortable pants.
Maybe on this side of the grave, you’ll never be able to forgive or be able to stand your wife’s brother or your sister’s child, and that’s okay, but don’t bank on never. I don’t much anymore. Yes, it’s hard hard hard, but when I’m having a good time with my big messy family, I notice and savor it, and I say thank you, that this came from a place of joy and absurdity, that it turns out we have it in us to laugh. And who knows, we may again – later today, tomorrow, or in patient, patient time.”
How will you practice empathy within the comfort (or maybe discomfort) of those you hold closest this Thanksgiving?