Tis the season to be jolly and I was so determined that my last blog for the year would be full of fun and merriment… but something has moved me so much that I wanted to share it.
I was privileged last week to run a training day in Darwin with a group of people who are doing special work with individuals and groups in indigenous communities. I was particularly impressed with four young people in their 20s who display more maturity and common sense than many of my peers. They work under very difficult conditions in their effort to assist others to strive for something better and whilst they are confronted with appalling scenarios on a daily basis, they manage to touch lives in a unique way.
Now, these are not sanctimonious goodie goodies just doing their duty. They are normal, healthy, young people who love to laugh and at times use irreverent humour to help them keep going. I loved being with them.
We discussed the notion of empathy versus sympathy. Brene Brown has a lovely clip on YouTube where she says that empathy fuels connection while sympathy drives disconnection. I love how she says that if someone begins a sentence with “At least”, you can be pretty sure they are not coming from a place of empathy. I witnessed this myself when my husband died and some people, sincerely wanting to help, said, “At least you had those years of happiness”. I cringe when I think that I may have used those very words in years gone past. They do not help. Often we don’t have to say anything. Even the words, “I don’t know what to say, but I’m here”. A silent warm hug is so nurturing.
I asked these young people if they found it possible to really go down to the depths with some situations they encounter and really understand and empathise rather than being patronisingly sympathetic. Their answers warmed my heart and I couldn’t help wondering what a better place we would live in if we could have the non judgemental attitude of these gorgeous young people.
Who deemed that colour was a predictor of superiority? This is something that puzzles me as I painfully have to realise that we live in a racist society where people are still judged by the colour of their skin, their sexual orientation, their passionate beliefs. There is ignorance in the pronouncement of people fleeing atrocities being called “illegals”, when they are not illegal at all.
I was made painfully aware of the experience of being different as I walked down a Sydney street with my African American special writing partner and witnessed what she puts up with on a daily basis. We encountered innuendos and slurs that have caused her to create a protective shield around herself. It has taken a significant amount of time for her to share what it felt like as a five year old black kid in a class full of whites and I still see that little five year old lurking in the protective behaviour that she uses as a way to take care of her concerns.
Christmas is a difficult time for so many people and I am touched by those who do remember others at this time, especially when their actions reflect empathy rather than sympathy.
As I hugged my special new friends at the Darwin airport, they thanked me but I knew that they were the ones that deserved the thanks because I left Darwin with a deeper understanding of what empathy really was. I also felt the world had to be a better place for having young people such as these.
Have you had the opportunity to be involved in community programs before? How do you help out your community and empathise with others? Tell us below.