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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how to pan for gold…in books though

‘I’m wondering what to read next,’ Matilda said.  ‘I’ve finished all the children’s books.’ – Roald Dahl

Music:  I found this artist, Jose Gonzalez, while watching the movie The Secret Life of Walter Mitty.  This song fit into the film so nicely.  It would be so cool to choose songs for a movie.  Who gets to do that?  Anyway, I highly recommend the movie and Jose’s music!  Click here to listen while you read. 

As I mentioned on my Reading List, there are some books that I just know…I don’t need the whole thing.  I just want the small bits of gold that apply to me.  I only use this technique for non-fiction works.  Obviously, I want the entire story within a novel and don’t recommend ‘panning’ a piece of fiction.  


In much of what I’ve found within non-fiction, an author does some great, focused research related to what they want to write.  They then present it in a way that works for them.  They also have to tell somewhat of a story with it…present it in a way that flows nicely for the reader…and usually attach some case studies (anecdotes about people applying the book’s theories).  Sometimes, I can tell that I love everything about the idea and everything related.  In that case, I take it all in.  

What is she thinking?  Where is she traveling?

On the other hand…and actually most of the time…I don’t want all the extra fluff.  I take the author’s unspoken word that their idea works for the case studies presented.  Just be careful with this, because they’re obviously not going to tell you stories when their information is arbitrary or ineffective.  That would be counter-intuitive.  I rely on myself though, to find the valuable nuggets of information, the ones that apply to me, and discern as to whether or not I agree or disagree with them.  This usually takes me 10-15 minutes, which means I can ‘pan’ one book a day!  Here’s what I do:


1.  The first thing I do is read the title and author.  Duh!


2.  Then, I go in the back sleeve and find ‘about the author’.  I like knowing the background information of the architect here.  They might have been fed from a silver spoon…might have 5 kids…or none…might have run some marathons…might enjoy their gun collection…or live off the grid.  What I also find here are websites related to their cause, or that they recommend.  


3.  Find the Table of Contents, look over it quickly to see what stands out to you, then dog ear the page.  You might be returning to this page a bunch.  


4.  Get a blank piece of paper, or notebook, or journal…and a writing utensil.  #2 Ticonderoga pencil is my go-to.  That was a joke.


5.  Here is where you start panning for gold!  First, check the end of chapter 1 for a ‘review’ or ‘summary’ or ‘wrap up’.  Some authors use this for each chapter, and it’s so helpful for us as gold panners.  If so, simply jump to each one of these, and write anything down you feel you need.  Here’s an example of a quick review from How to Talk to Anyone, by Leil Lowndes:


Since all of the gold had a grey background in this book, it was easy to spot. All the other writing was a longer hand version of this…and stories of when her friends tried this. Unnecessary! 


You may find a piece of information that you want more of in that summary.  If you do, just go back through the chapter quickly, looking for the terms that apply, and just take what you need.


If the chapters don’t have the summaries, you’ll have to work a little harder.  But all you have to do is rotate your pan in the water, sifting and scanning for information relative to you.  Most of the time there are bold letters, or headings that will help in your search.  


Always use the dog-eared Table of Contents to keep you guided throughout, and as a reference for what to find… and where.  


You may write down a lot.  You may just write down 2 bullets of information…2 nuggets of gold.  You may have a photographic memory and not have to write anything down.  It’s up to you.  Since my own memory is more bronze than gold, I do have to write something down.  I also enjoy having a folder in my drawer where I keep my ‘sheets of gold’.  I know that I can quickly go back and find what I wrote down…access the inspiring notes to keep me practicing a new habit…or find that author I liked to help me find that other book he or she wrote.  Here is an example of one of my sheets of gold (from the book Raising a Self-Reliant Child by Alanna Levine):






I simply write the title and author on top, and then some notes below.  My handwriting should tell you that I’m doing this fast.  Hopefully, I can read it when I go back to it!


Here’s another one with less notes.  It’s from the book 30 Lessons for Living: Tried and True Advice from the Wisest Americans, by Karl Pillemer:





That’s it!  Again, this takes 10-15 minutes, and you can pan a book a day! You’ll be rich before you know it.  Think of all of the great research you can access…the great authors and innovative thinkers…the people who have failed and then found the most effective ways to succeed…the parents who know what works.  You can use all of their blueprints.  It’s very handy.  By the way…I’ve spent a lot of money on education up to this point.  I’m very happy I did, and I’ll probably continue to do more.  However, all of this gold panning I’ve been doing…all of the ‘acquisition of knowledge’…has been totally free, from my public library!   A guy I play basketball with told me, ‘that works just as good…all the greatest minds in history are right there on the shelf.’  Nicely put right?  Thanks Matt!

This is your pass to free gold!


One last note…often I email the author, thanking them, and letting them know that their information was helpful.  Sometimes their email address is in the ‘About the Author’ section.  If not, some quick Googling can usually find it.  I think they deserve the gratitude.  I also see it as networking, and connecting with these folks I have a lot of respect for.  You can consider them mentors in absentia…and think of them as part of your own Circle of Elephants that I mentioned in another blog post.


I’ve been surprised at the emails I get in return.  Most of the time it’s a secretary or publicist that writes me back, telling me they’ll forward my message on.  Sometimes though, the author writes back, happy to hear from a reader.  And now you have a specialist in your contact list!  Last week, I was happily exchanging emails with Jack Welch, the former CEO of General Electric.  Someday, I might want to ask him a business question…and it’s fun to know that he might actually respond!  I’m still waiting to hear from Warren Buffett.


Good luck in your journey finding and becoming gold!

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All love!