Hello again, friends! I hope this post finds you happy, peaceful, and connected to the most important people in your life. Looking back on the 26 days since my last post, I can honestly say that the last is always true, but not necessarily the first two. Often these weeks, I feel challenged, tested, vexed, and conflicted.
Last weekend I had two prolonged and agonal Facebook conversations with one friend. Tears were shed, consciousness distracted, identity challenged. Suffice it to say, my friend persisted in his noble effort to help me look deeper into myself. He helped (goaded?) me out of my comfort zone, challenging me to really empathize with the suffering of others, specifically of blacks in America—to put myself in their shoes, something I may have never truly done before, or a least don’t do often enough, I’m humbled to say.
I have always thought of myself as an empathetic person. I can almost always relate to my friends’ and patients’ stories of loss, struggle, and suffering. I can imagine, one-on-one, how I would feel in their shoes. But I have also been careful not to say things like “I know how you feel.” Long ago I learned that those words overstep the boundaries of truly shared experience, and I came to view them as presumptuous and negative. As a result, I’m quick to acknowledge that though I can usually imagine, I cannot truly know the unique suffering of another. My dear friend helped me realize last weekend that in my effort to respect and defer to other people’s suffering—again, specifically black people—I inadvertently separate myself from it, and from them. And that, ironically, undermines the very connection I try so hard to cultivate every day. I talk and write all the time about our ‘shared humanity.’ But it was not until the hard conversations last weekend that I realized—or was reminded, I’m not quite sure, maybe I knew before?—what that phrase truly means. Because of him I’m now far less likely to see current events as happening to Muslims, Blacks, or Asians, but rather as happening to fellow humans. I have always understood this intellectually, but now I feel it, emotionally, viscerally. And maybe that is where true understanding originates. I am so grateful for this insight.
My last post was about listening… Rereading it and looking back now, I see that in my Facebook conversations last weekend, I sought initially to be heard more than to hear. And that’s okay. Sometimes we need to stand up for ourselves and in our own truth, at the same time that we Hold Space for others. Fortunately, both my friend and I stuck with the hard conversations, striving to be heard, eventually also listening (reading), and in the end we both felt understood and accepted. It was painful and frustrating, and totally worth the investment. Our newly deepened relationship will synergize our respective efforts to make the world better—we have pushed each other higher, we are stronger, because we are connected.
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