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A Man With A Shrug…

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Yes, I shrug… maybe I’m the wrong colour…

My last name should be Grey, not Green.

I see grey everywhere in a world that is often painted and presented to me in binary form… yes or no… black or white.

I change my mind at almost every corner.

You could call me Mr. Wishy-Washy, but you know, I take this as a point of pride.

I’d even humbly suggest it’s a sign of later-life wisdom.

In my late teens and early twenties, my favourite book was Ayn Rand’s Atlas Shrugged, a book promoting Rand’s political philosophy of individualism. I bought her whole storyline of Darwinian survival of the strongest individual, screw the rest of the weak world. I was strong. I was invincible. I was just like Helen Reddy, minus woman parts!

OK, I lied… my favourite “read” was actually A Man with a Maid, an early Victorian porno version of 50 Shades of Grey.

For a young dude it was erotically titillating with the use of shackles and seductive feathers in a man’s quest to rape women, although it was never laid out as rape; girls really just needed an education in how their bodies could be pleasured.

Seen exclusively through a man’s eyes, women in this tale came around to loving him and embracing their hidden sexual soul once they learned the charming and sensuous ways of his lust. *Nope, sorry fella, it’s just rape*

Today, neither Atlas Shrugged, nor A Man with a Maid find an exalted place on my book reading list. They’re in my remainder bin because…

I’ve changed.

I almost shrug in embarrassment to think that I enjoyed either novel, or welcomed things into my head that I now see as repugnant.

But, along the unending road to understanding, compassion, and seeing the world through the eyes of others, I can take some satisfaction in knowing that maybe, just maybe, I’m smart enough and flexible enough to change my opinion, any opinion, based on new insights or facts brought to my attention.

At times the metamorphosis I undergo is just so GD clear and obvious, while at other times it happens with me flailing on the floor, kicking and screaming. Whichever way it occurs doesn’t really matter so long as the change takes place.

Whether its Rand’s individualism, A Man With A Maid’s rape culture, drug laws, or LGBTQA+ rights, … whether it’s politics or philosophy, science or climate change, human rights or economics, or anything else you might name, the critically important point I aim for is to keep an openness to ideas.

An openness to saying… I think I’m right, but I might not be; I need to consider the issue from many angles.

A wide-eyed openness to scrutinize and question, evaluate and internally debate…continually learn… it’s too easy and lazy and bullheaded to merely rationalize with this is what I’ve always believed, or this is what my parents or teachers or clergy taught me.

And of course, to be fair, it’s equally important to recognize, after reflecting as calmly as a Hindu cow, when a change truly isn’t necessary or desirable when the only good reason is… because… it just is.

Because is kindergarten thinking.

Sure, I’m Mr. Wishy-Washy.

I even get frustrated with myself at times because of my vision of “greyness” in so much of the world.

Oh well…*shrug*… sucks to be ME!! Or does it?

Boosting Your Empathy Muscle

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empathy2

Oh … good morning… and welcome. Only a month until Halloween!

I’m talking to myself here today, but you’re most welcome to listen in…

The word I’m hearing in my head is empathy.

Empathy is an elusive killer for me.

I search under the couch pillows for it (score, a nickel!) but can’t always find it.

Empathy is a daily battle against our internal hurricane forces.

Empathy is difficult for most of us. For Trump, empathy is a word that doesn’t even exist. Too bigly maybe.

Empathy is all about understanding. Flushing ignorance. Discovering compassion.

When I feel anger and distrust and suspicion and fear it’s often rooted in my lack of empathy, an inability to put myself in someone else’s shoes.

I see it over and over again in others too.

My Dad used to have a small slice of birch wood etched with the words from a poem titled Walk a Mile in His Moccasins written in 1895 by Mary T. Lathrap  (often attributed to various First Nations tribes):

Pray, don’t find fault with the man that limps,
Or stumbles along the road.
Unless you have worn the moccasins he wears,
Or stumbled beneath the same load.

There may be tears in his soles that hurt
Though hidden away from view.
The burden he bears placed on your back
May cause you to stumble and fall, too.

Here’s an “empathy” example from this week:

It seems really strange to me when I’m helping out at the local soup kitchen and a fellow volunteer (sometimes several volunteers) gets pissed at the downtrodden clients at the serving window.

Stringy hair, missing teeth, stained and torn shirts, bruised eyes and vacant stares. Some better, some worse. All hungry.

Just yesterday a usually lovely, friendly woman chopping carrots next to me turned in snarl and said: … they’d have more success in getting volunteers to help out here if it wasn’t for all of these freeloading fruit pickers.

I cringed, blood filling my ears. Instantly – empathyless – I wanted to yell at her and add sarcastically: … sure, and how about all these drug addicts and homeless people that won’t go out and get a job?

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This is a double conundrum.

I’m hearing a lack of empathy for these folks in her anger, her refusal to wear another’s moccasins … plus I have to suppress the bitter distaste I feel towards her for her unkind beliefs and my struggle or refusal to wear her moccasins.

In my head I’m saying to her, why the hell do you come to work here (for free) if you don’t feel that the people coming in should get a free meal? This is a f*%#ing soup kitchen!

Angst comes from a lot of different directions.

It’s hard to see a homeless person in the street. Maybe you  have a relative in the hospital. Or a friend in jail. You’ve watched someone descend into an addiction. You scream and swear in a rage at the a**Hole that just cut you off in traffic.

I often don’t know how to deal with the vitriol in life. Sometimes I’ve been stupid and just avoided these people. That’s my fear speaking.

But no, I tell myself, this lady chopping veggies may have had a rough start to her day and her minor frustrations are boiling over in a weak moment. It happens to us all, right?

Maybe her house had a water heater leak overnight and caused a minor flood. Lots of maybes…

Of course being empathetic doesn’t mean you have to be abused by anyone. There are some people we’re better off leaving to stew in their sour anger and frustration. We can’t save everyone.

But we can take the time to breathe, think, and reflect and look a bit deeper for the reason, the root of someone’s anger, frustration or unhappiness.

Empathy takes time and patience and a positive view that sucks energy like an old 100 watt light-bulb.

Yes, empathy needs an energy generating bootcamp.

Compassion and empathy are muscles. And it’s important to exercise. Empathy bootcamp.

And the best way to change someone’s life is when they really need your help and you have the ability to give it, if only in gracious restraint and a willingness to accept that everyone has their own unique troubles.

Exercising empathy is probably the healthiest muscle to exercise.

Wise idea? Maybe…

I only hope I can listen to my own words going forward…

NB: This blog post is dedicated to the memory of Julia Christine Lane (1986-2019), a beautiful, compassionate, and highly empathetic soul.

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