Empathy is the ability to put yourself in another person’s shoes and relate to them. But how do you learn to relate to people if you didn’t grow up forming close bonds with people you saw often?
We all know what empathy is but feeling it is different. Knowing logically how to put yourself in someone else’s shoes is not the same as automatically feeling it all the time without it costing us emotional energy. That automatic habit comes from being raised in a tight-knit community.
What we are seeing now is roughly the 4th or 5th generation of Americans being born into homes where their parents are solely responsible for their children and have almost no community to support them. It’s not generally an option to leave your kids with your neighbors and family is not available to help in most cases.
Adults who grew up it tight-knit communities have lower stress levels. A parent may be the best and most loving parent in the world but children need much more than home and school. They need community as do adults.
So where did Communities go?
You wake up and turn on the news. You want to stay informed on latest events. In between the news broadcasts, there are commercials. You see dazzling products demonstrated by very attractive healthy looking people.
The message is clear. You’ll never be like those people and when seeing them have things that you don’t, you might feel like you’re losing the game. Like you don’t have enough. Constant bombardment with commercials leaves us feeling empty. Like we’re not good enough.
So, that’s an easy fix right? You want something, just go out and buy it. But then there’s a deficiency in your bank account and you’ve got to work more hours in order to make that money back. You work so much that you’re exhausted by the time you get home. You’ve got nothing left and all you want to do is blank out and rest.
So, on goes the TV. You get to watch your favorite shows as you eat your store bought dinner. Every 12 minutes of show get’s you 2 minutes of commercials. That means you’re bombarded with roughly 17 advertisements every hour.
If you watch 3 hours of TV a day that’s 25 minutes a day of beautiful people telling you that you don’t have enough stuff or that the stuff you have is dated and you need the latest version. That can leave a person feeling a bit down but we view this as normal.
You are likely in view of roughly 10 – 20 advertisements in this very moment. Take a look around you right now. How many brand names, trademarks and logos can you spot from where you are without moving? Commercials are just background noise, a natural part of the environment now. We don’t even notice them anymore.
When you are exposed to 25 minutes a day of TV commercials it’s almost completely certain that one of the number one things on your minds is going to be money so you can get that stuff that’s being advertised.
Avoidance and the Community Connection
So we’re working all the time and way too hard. We’ve grown up not really having to deal with each other. We’re completely comfortable avoiding that neighbor or coworker who doesn’t give us warm, fuzzy feelings
That same avoidance translates to family as well. We are not used to having to deal with things that we don’t want to deal with. If we don’t like vegetables, why would we eat them? Water doesn’t taste nearly as good as soda or juice, so why drink it? Every aspect of our lives has this same pattern of avoidance. Not really dealing with much of anything unless we absolutely have to.
When avoiding everything that makes you uncomfortable is the norm, why do we have to deal with family? Family is difficult and there’s almost always drama. They’re needy and always asking for favors and time. So why deal with them when we can just keep our distance and see them on the their birthday and Thanks Giving when we are forced to grin and bear?
In today’s society, people are sicker, have more mental health disorder and are more unhappy then ever before in American history. Many things have happened to contribute to this but studies show that individuals who suffer stress or trauma are many times more likely to rebound if they have a strong support network.
When things go wrong, which they usually do at some point, who do you count on? Who do you call? If you have a support network of friends, neighbors and family, you have a much greater chance of being able to handle what’s happening in your life without getting too down about it.
In today’s society, we’re told to ‘man up’. To not show emotion in public. Men who cry are weak and worthless. That you need to be ok with being alone before you can truly be with any one else and to weed out the ‘negative people’ even at the cost of total isolation.
All of these things have the end result of teaching you to avoid being uncomfortable to the point of being numb to all feelings. Avoid truly feeling what’s in your heart and avoid people who need help. What we’re actually doing is avoiding becoming fully developed, whole people who can easily handle daily life.
If we’re going to heal together as a society, it has to start at the individual level. We’ve got to stop avoiding things. Its starts with eating that vegetable that we don’t particularly like. Saying hello to that neighbor or coworker and then lingering. Don’t step away after just a few words. Stay there and listen to that person. See how they’re doing and really listen to them. It may take time, but no man is an island. We’re in this together.
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