There are thousands of beautiful works of art in the world, but this by Ukrainian artist Alexander Milov was, for me, a visual representation of empathy long before I knew the story behind the piece. Milov later wrote: “It demonstrates a conflict between a man and a woman as well as the outer and inner expression of human nature”. In other words, even in the darkest of times our inner selves reach for connection and reconnection.
As individuals we have a diverse and complex range of relationships with others, I am many things to different people, a wife, a work colleague, a friend, a child, an employee, a parent, a teacher, a delivery driver and as such I connect with others in a variety of ways and my needs and those of others whom I’m in relationship with varies depending on the nature of our relationship. The important common thread that runs through our relationships, in order to connect and reconnect, is to recognise that although we might have a shared experience we may be feeling differently about the event and that these feelings might be influenced by our other roles. To use a recent analogy, we are not all in the same boat battling the COVID-19 storm.
Now, more than ever before, we should seek to respond to unusual, unexpected or unauthorised behaviour with empathy. Before we judge and blame, we should first seek to understand and help others understand the cause of such behaviours as it is empathy not blame that enables each of us to take responsibility for our actions and to become reconnected with our community. As Marshall Rosenberg reminds us, “every violent action is a tragic expression of unmet need”, responding with blame rather than understanding and empathy only deepens divisions in relationships at a time when we are craving human connection.
So, this week – how can you respond with empathy to situations and behaviours that seem beyond belief? How can you feed our inner desire to connect?
How are you going to model an empathy to parents, colleagues and children as they return to school? One school in Arnhem in the Netherlands had bubbles on the first day back at school to ease the anxiety of the children. What will your bubbles be?