Empathy

‘the noblest pleasure is the joy of understanding’ – Leonardo da Vinci

 

Last week, I found myself at church in Colorado Springs.  It was like nothing I’d ever seen before.  Growing up in New Hampshire, I have a certain expectation of what ‘church’ is, and what it looks like.  It usually takes place in a formal ‘chapel like’ building…with a steeple and stained glass.  But this church wasn’t that.  I’d characterize it as very modern as a facility, and more progressive as a religious institution.  Upon entering the massive lobby, I was introduced to a bunch of gathering areas with attractive seating, an open concept fireplace, touch-screen sign in stations, a cafe, and an aesthetic that seemed to call more for a space for community and sharing, than a strict setting for receiving a sermon.

Now, I would call myself a non-believer…and still feel that way after visiting this beautiful church.  Why did I go?  My daughter and I took the trip to Colorado from New Hampshire to visit my cousin and her family.  Knowing how significant the church is within their lives, and how passionate my cousin is about being part of it, I really wanted to try to understand what it was all about.  I wanted to learn from an institution that I’m now pretty removed from…that I don’t necessarily believe in.  I wanted to practice empathy.

em•pa•thy – the ability to understand and share the feelings of another.

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All too often, we think negatively about the other side of the isle.  We ruminate on the differences between us.  We wonder how someone could be so shallow in thinking in a particular manner.  But progress and benefit comes from finding alignment, seeking out similarities, and respecting one’s position.

The church service began with an amazing band, playing rock/pop type music with a religious message within the lyrics.  Those lyrics were displayed on two huge screens on either side of the band, along with a video of the performance…so you could follow along with the song.  The band was amazing.  After that, there was a guest speaker visiting from another church, filling in for the pastor.  His message was so smart…so relevant to my world, and so easy to grasp onto…even by me (a non-believer)…and even though God and Jesus were central to the sermon.  I could sift the information, and gather the valuable pieces for myself.  I could understand how others could be so faithful here.  I could practice empathy.

This practice of empathy can seem warm and fuzzy, mostly reserved for vegetarians and yoga instructors.  And in some ways it is.  It’s choosing to lead with love as the intention.  It’s honestly taking another person’s feelings into consideration, and honoring and respecting those as you exchange words.  It’s forgiving and welcoming instead of judging.  Do you try to do that?  When was the last time you were truly empathetic to someone with opposite values of your own?  On the other hand though, this practice is very practical.  It’s a win-win for both sides.  It allows for necessary changes within society to more efficiently take place.  And it provides us with a broader perspective…one that leads to a more rich and fulfilling life.

I left the church with a newly found respect for my cousin and her family, on top of the love I already had.  I felt so lucky to share this experience with them, and that they welcomed me so warmly to a sacred part of their lives…without even knowing my thoughts on spirituality or religion.  And I felt really positive about a community that thinks differently than me…knowing that they are practicing something so worthy, and that their doing it just so right.

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When I was 21, I was working at a local car dealership, detailing cars that were traded in when customers purchased a new one.  I had worked there with my best friend for the past 2 or 3 years…basically since high school.  My friend found a gun in one of the cars.  He told me about it, and took it home.  Within a week or two, my friend committed suicide with that gun.

Since then, as you can imagine, I’ve had very negative connotations associated with guns.  I was never really interested in them to begin with…and this situation, being my first real connection to a hand gun, immediately deterred me from becoming comfortable with them.

You see, from my perspective, as naive as this may sound to you, my friend was dealing with something that made him unhappy for some time.  And he was ‘living’ with that.  When a gun was introduced to his environment, things quickly changed.  It seemed to me that had he not found a gun, he’d still be living.  I know, I know… he may have found another way.  But try to understand how it felt to me…try to feel it…practice empathy for me if you can.

Now, many years removed from that situation, I’m still not interested in guns.  I’m definitely not as sensitive to it as I once was.  I just don’t care to have one.  And part of that decision was certainly shaped by that early experience that I had.  Recently though, I’ve had great conversations with two guys that love guns.  They both seemed to believe in owning guns for sport, as well as for a way to protect themselves…their homes…their families.  And instead of focusing on how dangerous that could be, or wondering why they feel they need some of the weapons they have, or telling them why my perspective is more valid in today’s world…I listened.  I gave my best effort to respecting their values…their reasons.  I provided an opportunity for them to voice why they accept that owning guns is effective and significant.  I practiced empathy.

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I hope that by going to church…that by talking guns…I, in some small way made others feel positive about their position.  I know that by doing both, I felt more positive about my own.  Not ‘positive’ as in all-knowing and never swaying…’positive’ as in good…healthy…happy.  When we practice empathy, we expose ourselves and others to the fact that the world is full of vastly diverse perspectives.  We open ourselves up to the multitude of possibilities and opportunities.  And regardless of how small we move the needle, we make the world a better place.

Thank you so much for your time,

Jimmy Thorpe

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work/life balance

‘…life is about balance.  The good and the bad.  The highs and the lows.  The pina and the colada.’ – Ellen DeGeneres

 

I haven’t worked since December 1st.  It’s about time to get back at it!  Honestly, I’ve done a couple of things to earn money since then, but for the most part…I’ve been doing other things…things that don’t make me money…things that simply make me feel happy, content…fulfilled.  And while the term ‘work/life balance’ has become overused and perhaps stigmatized, I still pay heavy attention to it, and feel that you should too!

For most of us, it’s simply expected that work at a job will take up the most amount of time in our lives…more than most of the other things we do.  I came to realize that it’s highly beneficial to enjoy the work I’m doing, considering all of the time it takes up.  I also figured out that self-employment can lead me to a place where I can work when I want to, and work how much I want to.

My previous career was teaching English, in which I worked a 190 per year schedule.  I enjoyed the vacation weeks, and the summers off, but it always felt that the job was pulling, looming over me, causing me to still think and stress about it even when I wasn’t there.  I had nightmares about lesson plans (this was early on in my career), and I felt this incredible guilt if I was ever too sick to work a day.  I could never shut it off.  This wasn’t the only reason I quit.  There were many more, and you can read about some of it here.

Before leaving though, I had started a landscaping business called East Concord Grass Roots.  It began as a way to make some more money in the summers after my daughter was born.  But I began to enjoy the freedom and autonomy associated with running my own thing.  I could choose the days I wanted to work.  I could say, ‘no thank you’ to jobs I didn’t want to do.  I could work an extra long day when it fit.

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What I eventually created though, was a schedule in which I was able to stay home with my daughter on Mondays and Wednesdays.  I managed to get my work done on Tuesdays, Thursdays, and Fridays.  3 days per week!  Once in a while, I’ll work a weekend day, but it’s not that often.  So from about April 1 to December 1 (which is 34 weeks), at 3 days per week on average…that’s 102 days per year.  I’m really surprised with that!  I just did the math for the first time right now…and can’t believe it!

Within those (let’s call it) 100 days per year, I’ve been able to make more money than when I was teaching.  That was also a huge surprise to me, as I realized it soon after starting the business.  Now, I certainly don’t make a lot of money, and live quite modestly.  I have a small, old house.  I drive an old car with 220,000 miles on it.  But this is all part of the balance…the decisions…the work and the life.  Taking both into heavy consideration, I’ve found a sweet spot for myself.

Early on in parenthood, I made the decision that I’d put in as much effort (quality and quantity time) as possible…especially in the younger, foundational years.  I’m so happy and proud that I’ve been able to do that.  And as I’ve aged, I’ve come to understand that I love to spend a lot time at home…reading, writing, cooking, creating, working on the house, etc.  These last two winters have really proven to give me plenty of that.  This previous winter was the first that I gave up snow plowing, as it was generally a source of stress and anxiety for me.  I did have to make sacrifices to live more frugally through those months.  But it was a deliberate decision, related to work/life balance, that I made in order to stay happier.  I was able to read and write more than I ever have during that time, and now I truly feel ready to attack another Spring season.

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Work and leisure and family are all so particular depending on who I talk to.  I’m not naive, thinking that anyone reading this should quit their job and start their own business.  I will say though, that I don’t believe that most people give this idea the attention it deserves.  I will also say that I see most people highly stressed by their job, and wonder if they consider the long term and far reaching effects of that…on their own body, life span…and on their children.  I will ask if you’ve given thought to this question:  Can you make enough money in 100 days per year as opposed to 260 days that most people work?  Can you be happier doing so?

Many of us follow the routine, structure, and norms of the current society…and then find ourselves in situations where we ask how we got there.  Maybe we find that we don’t enjoy being there.  We want something else.  I’m just writing this to let you know that if that’s you wondering…there are ways to figure it out.  It’s worth your exploration.  The variables of time and money will certainly run the gamut, depending on your family and the field you work in.  But it’s easy to see, this at-bat that we have in life…this one chance that we get…isn’t about chasing a paycheck or ‘burning the wick at both ends’ because that’s what we’re ‘supposed’ to do.  It’s about trying to achieve a rich and fulfilling period of time based on what it is that you want.

So what is that?

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Fictional case study #2 (Good guy Gary)

‘the path to success is to take massive, determined actions’ – Tony Robbins

 

It is interesting that we often look outside of ourselves for direction and advice.  We ask others what they would do. We actually value that advice more than we consider our very own.  Most people are just built that way. And with today’s social media world, it’s all on display. We’re constantly evaluating our choices, actions, posts…by the amount of likes or type of comments we get.  It’s harder to go truly insular these days, and stay discipline with your own feelings and opinions. But for the select few that can go there…and that can keep returning there…the payoff will be insane!

Take this fictional story as an example of that:  Gary is a 41 year old good guy. He works for an HVAC (heating, ventilation, and air conditioning) company.  He has a 5 year old daughter named Madison. Gary is divorced and has his own place.

He’s recently noticed that he’s about 30 pounds overweight.  He feels strong from the work he does, but he hasn’t seen his own muscle definition since two years out of high school.  He has that trendy new shape that’s now a popular hashtag on instagram…#dadbod. And even though that trend has made it seem more acceptable to wear the extra layer of blubber, he knows how much more attractive he’d be…how healthier he’d feel…if he lost the weight, or better yet…turned most if that weight into muscle!

Another thought that Gary has been having lately, is that he recognizes that he is modeling behavior for his daughter Madison.  She soaks up everything at this young age, and is watching his every move. As she’s growing up, he’s having more and more conversations with her about healthy eating and exercise…but when Madison is at Mom’s house, Gary is eating chips on the couch.  He isn’t practicing what he’s preaching. And deep down, he knows that he’s influencing his daughter. In some way, she’s going to inherently take on some of his practices. We are all ‘products of our environment’. Sure, there is the nature vs. nurture debate.  But either way, we are shaped by what we come from. The apple still falls from the tree, regardless of how far it rolls away.

Gary hasn’t done much research on exercise.  Like most of us, he hasn’t majored in exercise science…but he understands that some cardio, some strength training, and a lot of eating healthy is what will transform his body.  And he wants to get to the gym…he just doesn’t know which one to go to.  There’s Planet Fitness over here, Bikram Yoga over there, a power-lifting gym, a place that coaches olympic lifting…not to mention the 3 new crossfit gyms in town! bHe told himself (and his daughter) that one of his New Year’s resolutions was to get into better shape.  But it’s mid March now, and he figures it’s too late to have a beach body ready for the summer. He might as well wait until Fall to start really making a push for the next summer.

As Gary starts thinking about it too much, you can see how he starts getting into trouble.

He’s also feeling a little insecure…not that he would come out and say that to anyone! When he was a kid, his dad taught him that men don’t show emotions or feelings like that. Most of Gary’s buddies though, belong to one of these local gyms, or at least play men’s league basketball once a week.  Gary runs out of breath just going up a flight of stairs. He doesn’t want to have to start at square one at the gym, when everyone else is killing it. He’d be ‘that guy’…the one that can’t bench-press the big 45 pound weight plates…the one that’s sweating all over the elliptical machine after 5 minutes of use.  He doesn’t want to be that guy. Actually, he doesn’t want others to see him as that guy. This is again, an example of how some of us let others control how we live (or don’t live) our lives.

And even though this isn’t something Gary would discuss with Madison, it’s somehow passed down to her anyway.  Gary thinks he puts off an ‘I live on my terms’ vibe to his daughter…but the subconscious nuance to that is out of his control.  The subtleties of his actions, of his reactions, of his initial responses to everyday occurrences…are unfortunately telling Madison, ‘our family doesn’t crush it.  We worry some…about how we come across to others. We think and talk, more than we actually do.’  Gary could tell Madison how important it is to not worry about what others think, but his actions are creating 10x the results in the opposite direction.  It isn’t even a contest.

/nuᐧance/ – a subtle difference in;  shade of meaning, expression, or sound.

Another thought Gary has been having is about his gear.  His running shoes are so old and dirty. He only has 2 or 3 pair of athletic shorts.  His ipod is big and clunky and old and doesn’t hold a charge. He sees that everyone else has cool stuff!  New compression shorts and pants, bright sneakers and socks, and that cool armband thing that conveniently holds a new ipod out of the way.  And everyone pretty much only wears dryfit materials now, which Gary has none of. He thinks he’s going to look stupid…no matter what he does.  He thinks he should probably stock up on some of this gear over time…then he’ll be ready for the gym.  

On top of that, he knows the potato chips and chillaxing on the couch needs to change. He actually has some good ideas about eating healthy, but he thinks that he should finish up eating all of the junk in the house, as not to waste, then start getting healthier with his diet.  Once he gets his diet right, then he’ll feel more ready to approach the gym.

Boy…some of us can see that Gary is soft…physically and mentally.  He should just go! Who cares about all that stuff he’s worrying about?  

On the other hand, some of us can truly identify with Gary.  Sometimes it feels that we need to first take care of A, in order to feel comfortable trying B.  And sometimes it seems that other people have all the right stuff. And we don’t. But that’s just a losing mentality.  

By thinking too much…by wondering what ‘most others’ are doing…by giving energy to what other people might feel…Gary has already lost.  

If he focused on doing, and just starting somehow…he’d be well on his way to ‘healthy Gary’, who would be (by the way), the absolute best role model for Madison.  

At the first hint of a feeling that Gary had about being out of shape (that very day!), he should have laced up the old running shoes and gone out for a 5k run…no ipod necessary.  Leaving from his house, taking it nice and slow, he could easily complete the 3.1 miles. Imagine the pride and sense of accomplishment after that! Then, he could have made stir fry vegetables and rice for dinner…with some yogurt (instead of ice-cream) for dessert.  

Now picture Gary’s mindset the following morning…as opposed to all of that negative thinking he was doing in the other model.  Imagine the effect and influence on Madison that next morning as they approach the day together. I wonder what different experiences they’d have.  I wonder how much more she’d be exposed to in her childhood, going this route. And I wonder how much further Madison would reach into her own potential, living with a dad who creates action, instead of one who sits and worries.  

I don’t think we understand this effect as well as we should.  I know that I don’t myself. And I’m trying to be more aware of it every single day.  It is very obvious that the far majority of us have wonderful intentions. We all, of course, want the best for our children.  Gary wants Madison to be healthy…and wants her to know how to achieve and maintain that lifestyle.  And deep down, we all believe that we’re teaching our children all about what is right and wrong.  It’s worth considering though, that within that teaching, it’s much more effective to focus on doing…not on lecturing or thinking.  

 

Thank you for reading!

FinalSignature

1%

‘i want to be different.  If everyone is wearing black, I want to be wearing red’ –

Maria Sharapova

 

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A couple of months ago, I came to the realization that doing something you’ve never done…as consistently and often as possible…can be really healthy for you.  It’s similar to my thinking around living ‘on the edge of comfort’.  And it’s all about continually challenging ourselves, and putting ourselves in positions to earn grit, to try, to do…to learn.

As I was reading yesterday, I came to another realization.  Yes, you can call it an ‘epiphany’ if that’s how you roll.  The people that are getting the most out of life…that are the most fulfilled and content…are doing what most other people won’t do, or aren’t doing.  The folks who are trendy, or first to the party.  The ones that are different, but intriguing nonetheless (first time using ‘nonetheless’…nailed it!).  There seems to be success and fulfillment in practicing the actions that most other people simply don’t.  We should all be trying to be part of the 1% crowd!

e•piph•a•ny – a sudden, intuitive perception of, or insight into the reality or essential meaning of something, usually initiated by some simple, homely, or commonplace occurrence or experience.

Being a 1 percenter (financially) has it’s own inherent connotations.  Some of us believe that those folks make too much money, and that they owe more of their fair share.  Others of us think that they create opportunities for the 99 percenters, and that their trickle down effect is truly beneficial to us bottom dwellers.

But I’m not speaking on financial earnings.  I’m talking about our actions…our choices and our experiences.

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So many people I know have had the same haircut since high school!  Switch it up a bit.  Try a different you!  Be the 1%

There isn’t much interest for me in playing in the middle…in doing what everyone else is doing…in doing ‘what I’m supposed to be doing’.  It suffices to say that there is much more intrigue in living on the outer edges…the fringes. And I’d go as far to say that better health, contentment, ‘success’, fulfillment, and overall happiness are found in living in the 1%

Here is an image, full of generalities, that should help illustrate my feelings here:

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Considering all of that, a 1%’er is a person who chooses to live life on their own terms.  They will live and die on their own sword.  Instead of life happening to them…they are making their life happen.

I challenge you to create your own 99% and 1% column chart.  Right now…write down 5-10 things you do that most of the population does.  Then, write down the things you do that only 1% does.  Use it as your journal entry for the day.  What can you take from your chart?  What can you learn about yourself?  Are you playing in the middle too much…where everyone else is?  Or, are you hanging out within that extraordinary population enough of the time?  And…what do you feel about your actions, considering what side their on?  Do your 1% actions bring you joy, vibrancy, passion, and love?  Do they put you around people that are good for you?  I bet they do!

Please share your chart with me, or any feedback from this in the comments, or on my Facebook page.  I’d love to hear some results, and learn more about this!  Here are some of my own results:

Some of My 99% actions

  • watching too much tv – March Madness, Celtics basketball, and I’m currently binge watching Breaking Bad for the 3rd time…oops.
  • consuming way too much sugar
  • not hanging with my guy friends enough
  • procrastination

 

Some of my 1% actions

  • I keep bees (and harvest my own honey)
  • cycling (road biking)
  • have my own business
  • work when I want
  • sing, and play guitar
  • eat a vegetarian diet
  • Write in a Blog
  • Have my own podcast
  • follow an ‘advanced athlete’ training program

 

Some 1% actions I want to pursue

  • swim (for fitness/health)
  • write books
  • start a wine club
  • start a dad/daughter club

 

All love!

emailsig

 

song of summer

you can sleep in September’  – Casey Neistat
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nubble

 

this week…we made calloused feet as we said ‘no’ to shoes in the cool mornings.  That small decision would shape our day…shape our minds as we walked out into summer without lacing up and becoming leather tramps.  A sense of freedom washes in with the tide, and then…draws us out toward the sea.  We feel the vulnerability of vagabonds, releasing our ties and our ability to be held in the sway of a work week. This is summer.  This is vacation. And now every step must be carefully selected, as the ‘souls’ of our feet finally have a chance to be part of the story. They have been waiting…and can now actually lead.  But our gate and pace is halved, and a more mindful tale becomes etched in the sand.

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we laugh
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we love



our edges are also exposed, as the subtle curves of our shoulders seek the sun.  Sleeves are considered low brow this week and the dresser drawers of our cottage bedroom are a mess of tank tops, sun dresses, jerseys, and cover ups.  There are no neatly folded piles.  No color matching consideration.  No heavy cotton, or burdensome long-sleeves.  Simply reach into the swirl of colors, and lift out the first least-restrictive piece your hand comes upon.  Along with the lightness in our step, our arms find a wider range, and we reach to what we choose to hold with a new and more deliberate purpose.  



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wells beach, Maine


there is no 9 to 5.  No lunch break.  No desktop computer.  And a morning shower isn’t necessary.  Deodorant is optional.  It’s all coolers and ice packs, blueberry and apple fritters, hair ties and flip flops, cold, hard, sandy cottage floors, warm, soft, sun kissed skin, cherries and spf 50, pails, shovels, and skim boards, blue matted public ways opening to salty marshes, grassy dunes and piping plovers, drift wood and beach roses, sea weed, faulty umbrellas, billy’s chowder house, fish and chips and lobster rolls, everyday ice cream, Wells and Ogunquit and York, taffy stretched in store front windows, arguments over parking spots, coastal drives and Marginal Way walks, swim suits at dinner and wet car seats, arcades and beachcombers, jetty’s and a Perkin’s Cove, barnacles in tide pools, sunglasses after sunsets, salty kisses, sun burnt hugs, air conditioned naps and then hatching into humidity…it’s the song of summer…and I’m always ready to hear it again.  






releasing ourselves from the career, the work week, the grind, and the frequent phone and email checks, we allow ourselves a recharge.  Paradoxically, by unplugging…we become more plugged in to what matters most.  A true vacation provides opportunities for an assessment of our home, work, and family balance from outside the box.  A reevaluation in a sense.  A fresh perspective.  And a check in with ourselves to say…’hey, how ya doin?’  

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too big for this yet?



Do what you must to insert a getaway into your annual goals.  Stop drinking Starbucks and put that money away for the next trip…start a micro business that will pay for one…cancel cable tv for the Spring and Summer.  Whatever you have to do…do it!  The experience of a vacation has such a valuable return on investment (click here for my post on r.o.i.) compared with buying tangible items.  


Happy Summer to you!

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Music:  Click here for one of my favorite bands…and a song that reminds me of summer.