Stay Connected with Your Empathy
Shame and contempt underlie many of the problematic behaviors that drive infighting. Shame is the feeling of having less inherent worth than others and therefore of being less worthy than others of being treated with respect. Contempt is the opposite, and it’s the emotion that is often automatically triggered by our anger. When we feel shame, we see ourselves as inferior; when we feel contempt, we see ourselves as superior.
The antidote to both shame and contempt is empathy, empathy for ourselves (when we feel ashamed) and empathy for others. When we empathize, we consider what the world looks like through the eyes of the other person (or of the part of ourselves that’s feeling ashamed).
It’s easy to lose connection with our empathy, especially when we’re feeling angry at someone else. And the combination of not being connected with our empathy and feeling anger is often a recipe for communicating in a way that’s toxic, or nonrelational, and that drives infighting.
When you learn how to stay connected with your empathy, and perhaps to increase your ability to feel empathy if you struggle to empathize with others in general, you’ll improve your ability to build stronger and healthier connections with others, within and outside of your group or movement for progressive change.
One thing you can do to start is to make it a habit to pause before you communicate with someone you’re angry at and ask yourself, “Am I truly considering how the world looks through the other person’s eyes? How might my words feel to them? How would I feel if someone were to say to me what I’m about to say?”
Also, when you learn the basic principles of effective communication, you often automatically start to stay more connected to your empathy when you communicate with others, since communicating effectively requires, and helps you cultivate, a certain degree of empathic connection.
There are times when it’s not appropriate to empathize with others. For example, it isn’t healthy to empathize with someone you don’t feel emotionally safe with, someone who you don’t trust is willing or able to treat you with respect. Empathizing with them may prevent you from identifying disrespectful or even abusive behavior and taking the necessary measures to protect yourself.
As long as you feel safe doing so, staying connected with your empathy is one of the most impactful things you can do to prevent infighting. If we hope to create more collaborative, harmonious, and impactful movements, it’s crucial that we relate to others with understanding and respect—and nothing brings us closer to that goal than considering how the world looks through someone else’s eyes.