Wednesday, December 11, 2013

PSA: Empathy Good, Sympathy, Not Really Cutting It

I ran across this little video today, on Facebook, where I often worry that I am wasting my time.  Finding things like this lets me know that I am not always wasting time.  

The video is an animated snippet of a talk by Dr. Brene Brown, a TED talk phenomenon and, for want of a better term, a motivational speaker (though I hate the term, as it always conjures up a van down by the river) who is an expert on shame and empathy.  The idea so delightfully expressed here is that what we say to those around us, especially those who are struggling, isn't as important as our connections with them.  To make a real connection, we have to offer genuine understanding.  We do this, according to Dr. Brown, by linking our own experiences to those of the person in front of us.  Sometimes though, all we can do is let someone know that we care about how they feel, and that we are willing to listen without making judgments about their situation.  Now you see why this has been so cleverly illustrated above-- it's cumbersome to explain how to be empathetic.  

What really caught my attention, though, is the contrast drawn between empathy and sympathy:  empathy gets into the muddle with you, while sympathy offers to fix you a sandwich.  I tend to go into problem solving mode when people share their troubles with me, and I realize how much this is like offering a sandwich, rather than a lifeline, to someone who is drowning.  As a pretty analytic person, my first response is to identify the cause of a problem then formulate a solution to alleviate it-- see, that doesn't even sound like being a good friend, it sounds like being an auto mechanic. (Not that auto mechanics can't be great friends.) This reminds me of a time, about 25 years ago that a friend called to tell me about something awful that had happened to her.  She related her story and I immediately started to throw out ideas for her next steps.  She cut me off in mid-sentence, and said, "I didn't call you to solve the problems, I just wanted you to listen and let me know you understand how much this sucks."  I don't think I got the lesson at the time, but this video brought that back and reminded me of how much I don't know.  

I'm gonna keep working on that.

*This video was brought to my attention by Brain Pickings, which I have mentioned here previously.  Can't say how much I really love this website, even though I remain less than lukewarm on the name...

Tuesday, December 3, 2013

The New Internet Diet

I was very happy to have spent last month posting every day on the blog, for the reasons I've already mentioned.  There was, however, one issue that detracted from the overall personal success.  I had to be at the computer for some part of every day.  And even though the NaBloPoMo was taken up to help me build writing habits, it did nothing to improve my Internet gluttony and the Internet meandering that comes with it. 

During the summer, I decided to try to spend one day, usually Sunday, without using the computer at all.  I picked Sunday, not for the holy, "Sabbathy" connotations, but because it is a day there is no business to do that can't wait until Monday.  I was doing pretty well too, because not doing something seems easier than actually doing anything.  I read the Sunday paper to get information, but never sat down at the computer all day. And it was good. I started the Internet fasting idea after realizing that I spend a lot of time just noodling around on the net, and even though I find really interesting things to read and look at and cook and try to DIY and put on the blog, etc., there is something about the browsing that is always unsatisfying. 
When I find something cool, there is always a nagging thought that I must also be missing something, possibly many somethings, even cooler.  You follow a link, it leads to an article, which contains a link to a video on a site you've never visited before.  There is that "Aha" moment of finding something new, but for me there is also a reminder that there is a ton of other stuff I'll never link to, just because I don't know it's there.  I would have to multiply my computer time by ten to even get half of it, and that would, I'm sure, also increase the feeling that there was more that I hadn't seen, and so on, and so on, like the old Faberge shampoo commercials where the model with silky hair keep multiplying, and so on, and so on. 

On a related note: I had totally forgotten that Heather Locklear did this commercial, and I just lost almost twenty eight minutes reading about her illustrious career.  I forgot all of the shows she'd been in.  Spin City?  TJ Hooker?  Dallas... Wow.  I mainly remembered that she was married to Richie Sambora and that she was rumored to have dated David Spade.  Then I had to look him up-- and how is he related to Kate Spade, superstar handbag designer? (brother in- law)  and how long was he on SNL? I was only thrown free of that Internet twister when I stopped to wonder how I ended up watching a clip from Tommy Boy-- hey, when did Chris Farley pass? How long was he on SNL? Did he ever date Heather Locklear?)

You can see that I need help.  Or I could end up living in a van down by the river.  Yeah, I followed the Chris Farley thread.  I hang my head in shame...

This is why I have to cut the fat out of my Internet program.  I spent what I think was a productive forty five minutes "unsubscribing" (take a moment to shudder at the made up tech word, then let it go) from a few dozen email lists for things like stores and surveys and alumni groups.  That cuts down on some of the meandering and on the sheer bulk of email checking.   There is something almost depressing about seeing that your inbox is overflowing with the electronic equivalent of auto glass ads and coupons for free bikini waxes when all you want to do is get some information. I also just have to go back to limiting the time I spend at the computer.  I can write on-- get this-- paper, or at the computer without having to open the Internet browser. But it's so seductive.  You know... I'll just play some music... I'll open Spotify and oh, wait, I just need to Google something real quick... Oh look, something sparkly!  Yeah, once I turn it on, it's all down hill, so I have to have more will power.  More?  I mean some.  Some will power.

That's the ticket-- will power.  I'll just totally control all my impulses to distract myself on-line.  Yeah, right.  Then, for my next trick, I will lose fifty pounds by "eating right" and avoiding chocolate and other tempting treats. 

Maybe I'll just work on the Internet thing first...