August 6, 2010

Empathy

Empathy in my dictionary is “the ability to understand and share the feelings of another.” I think a better definition is “to honor another’s struggle without offering a trite formula.” I guess that understanding and sharing should preclude trite formulas. I don’t think there is anything like a trite formulas to make it clear to someone who is suffering that their feelings are un-appreciated.


I read a Facebook questionnaire on Kerri’s wall the other day that asked. What is the worst part about having diabetes?

I wrote knowing type 1 isn't going to go away. Upon further review and using the instant reply cameras I have to toss a penalty flag on that one.  That is a simplistic formula.

Knowing type 1 diabetes isn’t going away is nowhere near the worst part. The worst thing about diabetes are the trite formulas that demonstrate no appreciation of the emotional struggle of living with it. 

I think it is perfectly fair and to be honest expected that the others don’t appreciate the complexity of diabetes struggles. They have their issues and the fears of not correctly balancing insulin, carbs, activity, meters and syringes aren’t part of them.

I am actually happy for for them. While the diabetes club has wonderful people in it, it a club none of us want anyone to be in. I can be happy with a response to diabetes if it can simply honor our struggles with out a comment that misconstrues and minimizes them. I try to learn from my feelings around type 1 how to honor others without a response that minimized their struggles. 

When I was at the low point of my deluge of diabetes related emotions I looked forward to a weekly podcast. It was my link to a world that shared similar lives. The news on science was a glimmer of hope for the future. The advice on care provided strength to do better day to day.  Mostly the voice of the presenter was a connection to an individual who honored my struggles.

I got to meet her this last summer. She is far more dynamic and caring than I could have guessed and I had ridiculously high expectations. I got to see her again this year. She introduced her mom. I considered that to be a privilege. Her mom is a hero to me. I want my daughter as well raised this mom's.

While my friend and I share an appreciation for the struggles of type 1 the source of my greatest joys, children, is a source of deep sorrow for her.  Five years. Five miscarriages. All "unexplained."

I know talk of relax, adopt or miracle baby are trite. I can honor her and know that I can't begin imagine how I would feel in the same place.

Empathy is too weak word. If diabetes has taught it to me something like it that is a great gift.  I'll still hate diabetes and pray for parenthood.

6 comments:

Bob Pedersen said...

Lovely post. I'm not a huge fan of hearing (or saying) "I know how you feel". Sure, we can project ourselves into another person's situation and imagine how you'd feel or remember how you've felt in similar circumstances. But we all experience things a little differently, and these kind of guesses are sometimes way off.

I AM a huge fan of listening, trying to hear how the person is feeling, ask some questions where appropriate, and accept the person's reactions as valid.

Bob, www.twitter.com/rpederse

Bennet said...

Thanks Bob I like the emphasis and distinction of listening and hearing and will shamelessly recycle it.

Penny said...

What a beautiful post Bennet. I am a huge fan of the greeting 'Namaste' to people who journey with me through Type 1. To me, it is honoring the spirit that is within them, that is within me, that is within all of us. It is remembering that we are together on the journey, but we may be on different spot within it. Listening lets me recognize the other person's journey as just as valid and honoring as my own. I think more of this empathy and less of 'critical empathy' is what is sorely needed sometimes.

Bernard Farrell said...

Well said Bennet. Diabetes is challenging enough without extra stuff like trite platitudes, diabetes police and other stuff pushed on us by people who don't take the time to know better

Christel said...

I love you, Bennet. Pure and simple.

Scott K. Johnson said...

This is a great post Bennet. I think it takes a lot of thought and courage to admit that it is hard to know what the hell to say sometimes. To know that there really are no words that convey the message you feel in your heart. That too is hard.

I love you both too. :-)