For some of us, the bubbles we lived in broke this year. The bubbles where we shared our ideas with the people we looked like, unfortunately no longer feel safe. Adding to this discomfort is the soul-searching that we’re doing in an effort to heal from the shocking realizations that 2016 brought us. It’s not like we didn’t know there were plenty of things wrong with America, the land of opportunity, it’s just that we hoped the facade of unity and the quietness of old sins would return us to our bubbles intact after election day. That didn’t happen. Instead, we’re looking at our peers and our loved ones a little different these days. We’re more anxious for our children. And there’s an internal struggle brewing too – begging the question “what’s the new game plan?” – that is: how will I navigate life among the public pockets of dangerous ideologies popping-up in my community and workplace?
The internal struggles that we’re dealing with now are some of the hardest battles we’ll ever tackle. We fight to stay productive with hard truths in race, gender, and economic inequalities. We fight to stay calm when our blood is boiling from news coverage and insensitive words from our peers. We fight to stay positive even in moments of our utter despair for the global turmoil people around the world are facing. We even fight to rest when the sheer exhaustion of a day’s work proves too much for our bodies. We fight between our stirred curiosity of wanting to help restore progress and order in the world and the fear of leaving the comforts of our schedules and responsibilities to do so. The world hasn’t changed that much since last month. Progress is still a moving target and at times a draining effort especially for those from humble beginnings. Some of us are still living in cyclical poverty and others with dreams deferred because the key out of their rut is complicated and hidden away in some secret inner circle where only a few get quality mentoring and access to influential relationships. People still want a bigger piece of the pie and some financial security long before they can formulate an opinion on world politics and humanitarian causes.
So, when you’re navigating difficult conversations in and around your circles of influence, remember that your empathy is your greatest tool to listen graciously (i.e. with unmerited respect) and to respond with information relevant to their understanding. Empathy is understanding other people’s point of view and how they may differ from your own. When you understand something you are automatically super-positioned to influence it because you see its parts and can potentially alter the way it works or simply know how you can act around it. Maslow’s Hierarchy of needs is a good place to start when trying to understand some of the people you interact with. Why? Because this model can re-frame how you approach and connect to people on a level that is useful to them. We have all moved through these levels beginning with the need for food, shelter, and rest. After that, we needed careers, savings and healthy outside relationships. Confidence, self-esteem, and building something we could be proud of was the natural progression. Self-actualization however, the pinnacle we all should aspire to, is a realm new to some of us. We’re now pondering our purpose and role in human existence. This year might have been the catalyst to get us moving from curiosity to action on world topics, and for discovering what power we have to take responsibility for our communities.
Though we’re at this pinnacle let us not forget those that aren’t. Let’s not let our frustrations with people’s conflicting interests deter us from being the change we want to see. Remember, the people who you’re interacting with through this bumpy life journey will be at different places in this model –your place in it may even change. Be gentle with people (even when they’re not gentle toward you). Fight your frustrations and stay focused on whatever service/cause that helps heal people or the environment. If you light a path some will follow and that should bring you peace among the chaos before you head to bed every night. Now for those that you once called like-minded that seem foreign to you now, well that’s where you continue your soul-searching. Make difficult decisions of where they now belong in your life – and keep them there.
No matter what, life will go on. We’re all one relationship away from changing how we view our circumstances. One relationship away from meeting and investor to back our vision. One relationship away from the right endorsement to an elected office or promotion at work. Truth be told, we’re only one relationship away from our purpose. Most importantly, we’re one relationship away from changing our quality of thinking as a relates to our role in advancing human kind in some way. Because anything worth having doesn’t come easy, it’s going to be hard work to stay connected though hurt and disappointment. It’s going to be hard work, to keep caring about community affairs when you’re still explaining to your kids why the world is mean. It’s going to be hard work to keep the pressure on for climate change, women’s rights, economic equality, social justice, and safety in our schools. But we have to. We have to remain empathetic to our brothers and sisters whose viewpoints are different from our own. In understanding, we gain a competitive advantage in how we formulate arguments that effect change.
Some of us are peacemakers who see the big picture. Our empathy is a strength that when expanded helps us to remain strong for those who can’t be, and a force to be reckoned with for those who look to extinguish the inclusive ideals of a changing world. Be empathetic – but after you’ve gained understanding, work to be the change.