terrible writing club: thoughts on empathy

I’ve been stuck in a rut, creatively speaking, for quite some time.  I’ve been toying with the idea of writing prompts but never got around to actually looking into it.  I figured it was fate when one of my very favorite podcasts, Terrible Thanks For Asking, announced they were doing a writing club.  All I had to do was text (easy) and they would send me automatic weekly writing prompts.  It was basically marrying two of my favorite things: writing and emotional stuff.

Yesterday, I got a text from the #TerribleWritingClub and I’ve been thinking about it since.  The text read like this:

Quote from Nora, episode #49: “Sometimes I think the hidden key to empathy is just humility and curiosity.  It’s just saying, ‘hmm, I don’t get that… tell me more?’”  Write about your empathy.  Where do you struggle to feel empathetic?  To yourself?  To someone who gets right under your skin?  What comes easy to you where empathy is concerned?

em·pa·thet·ic /ˌempəˈTHedik/ adjective
  1. showing an ability to understand and share the feelings of another.

My first thought went to my struggle with being empathetic toward others.  I feel like I’m a great listener and someone whose default setting is empathy, but I’m also a fixer.  I fail to ask the simple question: “do you want me to just sit with you in this or do you want me to help you find a solution?”  Instead of approaching it with curiosity (as Nora does), I also fail to go back and get more information for fear of making someone uncomfortable.  I feel like I have to stay two steps ahead in an emotional conversation so I’m not caught off-guard without a response.  It’s a fatal flaw that I’m working on.

I was listening to another podcast this week that kicked around this whole idea of being empathetic to oneself and people who might get under the skin.  The argument was (paraphrasing here) ‘do you throw the art out with the artist’ if the artist turns out to be a garbage human?  Does their garbage humanness taint the art?  It made me think maybe people are afraid to be uncomfortable; I know I am in certain aspects.  As a result, there’s a knee-jerk reaction in the time we’re living which is to avoid offending anyone or making anyone uncomfortable.  The truth is (I’ve discovered through lots of therapy) that growth comes from discomfort.  Good dialogue comes from discomfort.  Change comes from discomfort.  Growth, dialogue and change are all part of being empathetic.  The willingness to be uncomfortable is part of being empathetic.

Think about your answer to that question.  Do you struggle being empathetic to yourself?  Do you struggle in that connection with others?  Do you find curiosity an essential part of empathy?  I do think empathy is something we could all use a little more of.  I’ll be taking this thought with me, going forward.  I hope you’ll consider it too.

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