I raced the cat to the kitchen, as I typically do, and fed Kuu. After that I came back here to bed to get on the computer and update my LJ and noodle around on Gerlach's web site. I had pulled up this entry in Semagic and was reading it. I started it at work, ten days ago while thinking about empathy and a Brené Brown video I had watched some time ago. I was expanding and editing my writings on what I had discerned by integrating what I learned from Brown and Gerlach and I decided to play the Sarah McLachlan song I had been playing ten days ago, at work, when I began putting the thoughts about empathy onto the page. "Hold On" is about the deep value of connection and the pain of losing that. Wow, that woman has an expressive voice. I got to thinking, no matter what I believe about our differences, or the ultimate answer to the question of whether it was viable or not, what I had was a large emotional investment of nine months in someone who gave me real spiritual and intellectual values and inspired me. Interacting with her changed me; I am objectively better off for having interacted with Laurel. Her company felt good, it felt like...home, something I haven't really felt consistently for more than a decade...and now she's gone. Well, that sprung the water-tight hatch. When the grief subsided, I heard some sub-self mutter to himself: "We've got to stop doing this..." I can't get hold of that guy. I want to ask him if he thinks we can continue on with not doing this, with not feeling. Brené Brown tells us that we will never have empathy, never have connection and bonding, if we do. Can I really live like this? Do I want to do so?
From Brené Brown's video: On Empathy
Theresa Wiseman is a nursing scholar who studied professions, very diverse professions, where empathy is relevant and came up with four qualities of empathy:
- Perspective taking: the ability to take the perspective of another person, or recognize their perspective as their truth.
- Staying out of judgment.
- Recognizing emotion in other people.
- Communicating that [recognition.]
Empathy is feeling with people.
From this, the following derivation of a moral rule follows:
It is moral that you consider the presence or absence of a feeling, question the nature of your feelings, consider their origin, or try to clarify or explain them; it is immoral to invalidate your feelings. When dealing with other people the same rule holds true with respect to them: you can request that they consider the presence or absence of a feeling, ask to question the nature of their feelings, solicit the origin of their feeling(s), or request that they try to explain them but it is also immoral to invalidate the feelings of others. If someone reports a feeling honestly, it must be accepted and incorporated into your attempts to understand and communicate with that other person; it must not be dismissed or invalidated. It is dangerous to presume feelings in others that are not reported; when in doubt, ask.
Empathy is a choice, and it's a vulnerable choice, because in order to connect with you, I have to connect with something in myself that knows that feeling.
I think Brené is oversimplifying here. Empathy is not a choice; it is a skill. The choice comes in whether or not to develop it, as per Aristotle: we are what we repeatedly do. One does not merely decide to have empathy rather, one decides, in each particular instance whether one will practice this virtue or abandon it and succumb to vice and cowardice. Why? The answer lies in Gerlach's observation about trauma and The Six Psychological Wounds when integrated with Brown's observation that we have to connect what we recognize in others with a feeling in ourselves. One of those six psychological wounds results in "a difficulty feeling, empathizing, and bonding (attaching to / caring about / loving) other living things." What's this got to do with Brown? Gerlach postulates that some of the potential guardian sub-selves that we can develop are ones that deal with trauma, and the upset inner-children it creates, by blocking or anesthetizing our emotions. They make it hard to feel, sometimes, often, and I suppose in some unfortunate cases, always. So, if we have trouble feeling, then it's going to cause us trouble "connecting with something in ourselves that knows that feeling," that we recognize in someone else. The only way to address this problem is deal with the sub-selves blocking and anesthetizing our feelings, and to practice empathy and staying in touch with what is going on inside ourselves to the best of our ability. These are virtues just like self-discipline and remaining mindful of the truth and the responsibility of seeking it, speaking it, and acting on it.