Which premise is true?
BOTH. I think as usual, when we try to make something black or white in order to make it easier to understand the “rules”, we risk missing out on important nuances that can make a big difference.
While you can’t control how other people respond to you or what you say, that does not mean that you should adopt an attitude of, “Well, that’s your problem if you were offended by X, Y, or Z. I didn’t mean it that way, or it’s just my opinion, so it’s your problem.
Each person is going to hear you through their own filters, beliefs and experiences--and that will affect how they interpret what you say. So, it is not entirely your responsibility if they become upset by something. And what our ego really wants to know is that it's not all your fault. (so quell your impulse to become defensive, which just throws a wrench into anything you’re trying to communicate)
HOWEVER, what you still have a responsibility to do is to have mindful speaking and conscious communication. What do I mean by that?
So, you have a right to express yourself, but you should do so with a mindful awareness of others at the same time. It is possible to respect both yourself and others simultaneously! Respect that you have feelings, experiences, and opinions that come from a valid place and may be expressed. Also respect that others have different feelings, experiences, and opinions that are just as valid.
NOTE: This is about expressing emotions about things. That is not the same thing as sharing information, which can be factual or nonfactual. This is another aspect of communication that we all have a responsibility to understand. We must care about and seek the TRUTH, and make every effort to adhere to truth when sharing information, regardless of how we feel about it.
Lastly, I think it’s important that we all acknowledge that this entire process is not simple, and it’s not always easy. We are not perfect and we WILL make mistakes. We will accidentally hurt people. We will say things that we thought were factual, only to discover they were not. Perhaps we will even discover that we shared things that we thought were facts only to discover within ourselves that they were expressions of our emotions and not facts! Wow! But if we create a culture of mutual compassion and understanding, even these missteps and misspeaks will be safe, as we will all know that we are making the effort to be empathetic.
Empathy does not require perfection. It does require effort.
What is it that makes empathy a challenge for some of us?
Why is it that when someone rises up to proclaim, “BLACK LIVES MATTER!” that someone else feels the need to quickly assert, “ALL lives matter?”
Are we afraid to empathize with someone else’s experience? Do we think that to acknowledge someone else’s feelings or reality somehow discredits our own?
It’s not either this or that! If we embrace the #BlackLivesMatter movement as we should, and we all decide to make the changes that are needed in our country, our institutions, and possibly our own hearts, then that does not somehow eliminate everyone else’s value.
Unless it’s not about value from a spiritual perspective. Is it about the white privilege that deep down, we white people know we benefit from, even if we don’t consciously admit it? Are we afraid to let go of that?
Well it’s time to. Whatever the fear is, wherever it comes from, we have to face it and change it. This is a time for personal transformation from every single one of us that will lead to a collective transformation.
Face your shadows. Face your fears. Acknowledge your biases. Challenge your opinions. EMBRACE BLACK LIVES. Embrace empathy.
My grandfather was a type A personality. And when I say that, I mean TYPE A. I vividly recall his loving yet forceful “sermons” about life—starting at say, six years old. Get an education! Have a plan! WHAT WILL YOU DO WITH YOUR LIFE?! If he didn’t say it with such damn love, it would have been scary. But even with my sensitive soul, I knew where his speeches were coming from. One day, I wrote a note to my elementary school teacher explaining that my grandfather loved me very much and wanted me to get a good education!! She agreed.
Fast forward to this morning in late April 2020. We are almost seven weeks into COVID-19 lockdown, and I am forty-two years old. I have already fed the guinea pigs, spot cleaned their cages, fed the dogs, given everyone their medications, and then poured my coffee. I gave Jaya her bully stick to chew on and sat at the computer to drink my coffee and virtually survey the world. We have a routine. And yes, I’ve turned out to be a little bit Type A myself; but luckily, much quieter than my grandfather.
Seven weeks ago, I had lots of plans. Then the world stopped, and those plans were paused while everyone was forced to go into crisis mode. We were forced to alter every routine and every plan that we had ever imagined. But, hey, I can roll with the punches and go into crisis mode---short term. But as the time stretches on, and the weeks and months appear less clear by the hour, I find my anxiety rising. What’s my plan? Pop-pop always said to have “Plan A” and “Plan B.” What plan am I on? W? Z???
Screw it. I’m on Plan *%&$, and I think he would approve.
I remind myself of what I’ve learned up until this point in life. Plans A and B don’t always turn out the way you expect them to. You think you’re going one way, but life throws you a curve ball, so you reevaluate and adjust your plan. Then, you fall off a cliff, pick yourself up, check for broken bones, and adjust your plan. Finally, you’re almost where you want to be (at least in some area of your life). You can see it just ahead. A few more steps and the plan is complete. When BAM!! You walk straight into a wall and fall back, disoriented. What do you do? Do you give up on the idea of planning altogether?
No. You enact Plan *%$&. You acknowledge that while you have no idea when or how your goal will unfold, you still hold the essence of it clearly in your heart and mind. It’s a different sort of plan. It may not have concrete checkpoints at the moment, but it is no less powerful. It’s a vision. A feeling. And one day, that feeling will manifest into more visible steps. One day, you will arrive.
So for today, Plan *%$& means that I will take care of myself. Jaya will chew her bully stick. We will go for more walks. And we will dream.
Last night, I read a thread on my neighborhood app that started out innocently. Someone mentioned that they had a negative experience while out walking. The poster explained that with social distancing in place, it would be helpful if neighbors could be more considerate about sidewalk space. So, for example, if you see someone approaching who is pushing a baby stroller while you are hanging out on the same sidewalk chatting with your neighbor across the street, please step aside to continue your conversation and allow the neighbor/stroller to pass by. Seems like a simple request, right?
Wrong. It turned into an emotion-fueled, angry dialogue with some people attacking the person who was asking for thoughtfulness. How dare that person infringe upon others’ rights to stand on this sidewalk! Why should THEY move, and not the one who has the ‘problem?’ However, in this situation, the one with the so-called problem was a mother walking with her child and dog, and they were all forced to go out into the street, avoid an oncoming car, and try to move around the person who was blocking the sidewalk.
Why the explosion of anger at a simple request? When people lash out at each other like this, I see it as coming from a place of fear. From the attacker's standpoint, if someone steps aside for another person, then they must be taking away the first person’s right to space, correct? And if it starts there, then what else on this dreaded slippery slope of compassion will we end up with? Empathy is downright DANGEROUS.
Dog trainers know that a common problem owners call them to solve is reactivity or aggression while the dog is out on walks. The terms reactivity versus aggression could be debated in their own blog, so for this purpose, I am using the term 'reactive' to mean a visual display of lashing out (i.e. barking, lunging).
Different dogs may become reactive to different stimuli. Some feel the impulse when seeing another dog. Some explode when seeing another person. I’ve even had owners tell me that their dog is racist and only reacts to white German Shepherds or black poodles.
However, when beginning to work with these types of dogs, trainers will often find that the reactive dog is fearful and not actually wanting to attack or kill its target. It is the rare canine who is truly walking the streets, in a predator mindset, and looking for its next victim.
We are about six weeks into the COVID-19 lockdown for many areas, and people’s emotions are running high as can be expected. This is a surreal experience, and while trying to practice this new normal behavior of social distancing, we are finding ourselves stressed, scared, and at times, like reactive dogs.
However, we can override our fears if we make the decision that we want to be different. Let’s acknowledge that we ALL have knee-jerk reactions to things. We all experience impulses of anger or frustration or fear when out in the world and are interacting with others. But if each of us has already made the internal decision that WE want to be someone who is seeking growth, harmony, and love, then we can conquer those impulses.
This is a personal decision that has to be made when you are alone with yourself reflecting upon who you want to be. If you wait until you’re in a difficult situation, then you will only be able to rely upon your automatic or default reactions. You will be the dog who sees its scary stimuli and has no other option but to bark, lunge, and become totally out of control.
Be the dog who got help. Be the dog who learned how to exist in a sometimes scary world without needing to lash out at everyone and everything.
(SIDE NOTE that now feels like its own example: I specifically left out the word “trigger” when describing being in a situation that creates personal impulses. Why? Because even that word has now become politicized, and it is based on fear! In today’s political and cultural climate, if you say that someone is “triggered,” then they must be a “snowflake,” meaning they must be a “liberal,” etc. Do you see the chain of reaction that someone can experience from JUST ONE WORD?
But if we step outside of our fears, then we can acknowledge that ALL humans, liberals and conservatives, have conditioned impulses, can be ‘triggered,’ and that it’s nothing to be ashamed of. Your real power lies in learning to understand your impulses and managing them. You do not have to guard them with your life and attack anyone who suggests otherwise.)
I am a sensitive person. And I don’t just mean that my feelings can get hurt easily—but a truly sensitive person that experiences the world differently than many people. It’s taken me 40 years to understand myself but now that I have a better grasp on what often feels like both a blessing and a curse, I am also more acutely aware of what I am supposed to do with it. As an empathic healer, my life has included unique connections with animals, nature, and the processes of life & death, as well as experiences with the spiritual world. Combining this innate ability with a traditional education in psychology led me to pursue work experience with adults & children with mental illness and/or autism. It was after many years working with people that I turned back to my passion for animals and developed the energy healing.
I have learned that animals and children are not so different. Now, wait—hear me out for a minute. I’m not suggesting that your 5 year-old is the equivalent of a dog. However, I can’t deny the energetic and spiritual similarities between animals and young children. This is actually a magical thing. Childhood is that beautiful time in a person’s life when they exude a natural innocence that has not yet been tainted by the world’s harshness or jaded by negative experiences. Animals live out their lives in this spiritually pure and ego-less place. They have even been shown to display empathy and compassion. But our children are not dogs, cats, birds or horses. They are humans who grow and mature into their human brains--developing sensory-motor skills, memory, language processing abilities, as well as learning abstract concepts such as kindness, empathy, inclusion, and truth.
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As I listened to the World News Tonight segment about yet another horrifying tragedy, I became aware of another sound, besides the guttural screams and cries coming from the TV. I heard a faint whimpering coming from the edge of the kitchen and looked over to see my senior Siberian Husky crying and staring off into the distance with her normally sparkling blue eyes.
“What’s wrong, Nala?” I asked. “Does something hurt?” She glanced briefly at me and then back into the distance, continuing her cries and added a mournful “wooo” to really get her point across. I muted the TV so I could pay better attention to her, at which point she stopped crying, sighed, and rested her fuzzy head down in peace.
That’s odd, I thought. She seems to be okay, though. Except that she did it again the following night—during another tragedy that was graphically being displayed on the news program. The segment was complete with the traumatic sights and sounds of the latest crisis. Again, when I turned the TV off, she calmed and went back to sleep.
And that is how my dog taught me about the power of negative energy coming through our media.
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I want to be clear that this is not a media-bashing article. I’m not spouting, “Fake News!” or blaming individual journalists for how they bring information to us. What I am bringing attention to is the systemic dis-ease that we are all experiencing in this country, how this is critically affecting our children, and what we can do about it.
Bad things happen. The news media gives us this information and keeps us informed. However, in this process of being informed, we have become inundated with endless tragedy. Mainstream TV is now competing with the overwhelming access to information in the world of social media. So what must they do to maintain ratings? Give the viewer MORE! More sights, more sounds, and more emotions of tragedy so that we can truly feel as if we are experiencing it ourselves. Good? Well, maybe if done once or twice to try to increase one’s sense of empathy. But on a daily basis? We become desensitized to all of it. It becomes normal; just another day; and in essence, others’ suffering becomes commonplace. It’s not because we don’t care or are all sociopaths. It’s because we must cope with the flood of incoming crises and somehow find a way to continue on with our daily lives. People cope in various ways—some tune it out, some embrace denial, some become emotionally and/or physically ill, some experience a sense of “learned helplessness” or despair. And these are the adults that I’m talking about.
Consider, though, if these are the symptoms that occur in adults living in today’s world, then how is it affecting our children? Also, the news media is just the tip of the iceberg when examining the amounts of negativity pouring into our lives on a daily basis. It used to “just” be crime, car accidents, and the occasional weather event. Now, we are all faced with the very real threats of political turmoil, racism and hate crimes, extinction crisis, climate change, the development of superbugs, the acidification of the ocean, and so on.
We are waking up—reaching a new level of consciousness, which is a good thing. It’s something that must happen in order for us to grow into a better version of humanity. We can be a species that values and respects each other and our environment. One that supports other people and treats them with love and kindness. One that values truth and that places integrity higher on the list of priorities than money. We can change, and we will. But we have a lot of work to do.
Many children around the globe have already begun this work. They want a new world…they are begging the adults to get on board and wake up so that we can help them begin the systemic changes that need to happen now. They are fighting political entities that are so focused on money and power but to everyone else’s detriment. We must all work together to create the change that is needed on every level in order to heal our hearts and redevelop our society.
Let’s step aside from the horrors of the real world for a moment and take a look at the entertainment that we offer children. First, I think we can all agree that entertainment is supposed to be fun, yes? It’s supposed to be an escape from reality, whether that be into far off galaxies or fairytale worlds where imaginations can run wild. But overall, entertainment, especially for children, really should follow the definition of “…providing or being provided with amusement or enjoyment.” Now I know that some people find enjoyment in getting a little scared or perhaps like the rush of adrenaline that they get from action movies. But we are adults—we can cognitively and emotionally process these things differently. And even then, I personally believe that adults are on sensory overload from negativity and violence whether they know it or not—but that’s for another article on another day.
But is it possible that children, who are living in the same frightening world that we are today, along with their daily stressors, do not have the emotional maturity to be entertained by violence and darkness? Kids today must face everything from ordinary growing pains to less ordinary, yet sadly common, instances of bullying. And the bullying is not just on the playground now, but with the added touch of social media so that the attacks can follow them home. Oh, and they also get to fear for their lives just by going to school these days, too. If we hear of someone murdering people on a school campus, we are forced to describe it as “another mass shooting.” Now add to this child--this 7, 8, 9, 10-year-old child—some “good old” entertainment with lots of violence, darkness, destruction, and villains. What could go wrong? My response to that question would be a solid, “what could go right?” And the answer is, “Not much.”
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When we first reached out to agents 3 years ago after writing the Betty Dog Series, a trilogy of early chapter books that inspire kindness, empathy, inclusion, and truth, we received some “good” rejections. We were told that the books were good; the stories were nice; the messages were inspiring; but what kids really wanted was “dark and edgy.” Well, it appears that “dark and edgy” is exactly what kids have gotten from our society over the past 3 years, both in entertainment and in the real world. I would ask you though whether this trend has led to the development of empathetic children? And is it possible, that kids don’t want dark and edgy? Perhaps they want what adults tell them (and show them) has value?
I’m not suggesting that we play Leave It to Beaver 24/7 or pretend that we are all living in Pleasantville. But can’t we provide children with just a little bit of balance? Maybe even some guidance and moral development along with their entertainment?
Well, as Betty Dog (also known as BD) would say:
“I’ve noticed that sometimes when badness shows up, it can get a lot of attention and almost seem exciting at first. Like a tornado I saw once on the news. When the black funnel cloud moved through the sky, I could see it was powerful. But then it started ripping up trees. And people’s homes. And destroyed everything it touched. It left behind a mess. And a lot of sadness. I’ve seen some bad people who remind me of tornadoes. At first they seem powerful. But then they destroy everything they touch. They leave behind a mess. And a lot of sadness. No difference. And there’s no difference between a little bad and a lot of bad. Because it’s all bad. But what I do know about bad—is that it always loses. It always falls apart. It’s always found out. Down deep, it is always weak. But good can wipe away bad. Because good is always stronger than bad…You know, I believe that when we go through life doing the right things, good comes. When we go through life doing bad things, then bad comes. It’s a no-brainer. I choose good.”
Betty Dog’s Special Gifts