Olives and empathy
I was two weeks out from my event. Two weeks away from hiking 45 miles in a day. In this last week of training I decided to push and challenge myself. I had started running with my pack, to mimic what it would be like the day of my hike, and now I wanted to have it be even more realistic by matching the weight of the pack. I decided to put in two cans of olives and an extra water bottle in my pack to weigh me down... It worked.
I set out for my run in the cool and dark of the morning, and with every step, I felt those dang olive cans weighing me down. It’s amazing how much an extra 12 oz can do. I came to the part of my run where I ran up a pretty steep hill. While struggling to trudge up the hill, I had the thought: I wish the cars passing by could see what was in my bag. I wish they knew that I am running slower today because I put cans of olives in my bag-I don’t normally run this slow! There I was, working my best and challenging myself and my body to accomplish new limits, and I was worried about what strangers passing by thought of me. I wanted them to know that I was challenging myself and I wanted them to literally see the extra effort I was putting into my training. I was seeking their validation.
Then I had the thought, what if I didn’t have to worry about what others were thinking. What if I didn’t have to hustle for my sense of accomplishment and pride. What if I could get to the point where me doing my best was enough. And what if, as outsiders looking at people, we saw that everyone has a load on their back. And it didn’t matter what was in it, whether it was a lot or a little, put in there by ourselves or put in there by other people. Everyone has a load and a story.
Empathy is the ability to share and understand the feelings of another person. It is the capacity to feel and understand someone's frame of reference for their experience. I attest that we all have room for more empathy in our lives. Both by giving, and receiving. By being a human, a living breathing soul who accumulates life experiences every day, you are qualified to be empathetic towards someone else.
With my olives and running example, I was assuming that the cars driving by were not empathetic. I was assuming that they were judging me based on my performance, just like I was judging myself for my performance. If I assumed the cars had empathy, I wouldn’t feel the need to justify why I was running slower. I would feel that they “get it,” that they have “been there.” What would it be like to live in a world where we are not worried about being judged by others, and we are not wasting our energy questioning, judging or analyzing other people. We just saw each other as people, showing up in life, doing the best we can with what we’ve got. Empathizing, because even if we have not had the exact same experience as someone, odds are high that we have had an experience that resulted in the same feeling as what someone else might be feeling.
I want to leave the reader with some action items to be able to move towards living a more empathetic life:
Examine your own life, what is in your load that you are wishing other people would see? What work needs to be done around that? Start a business to spread your idea. Share your story with people who could benefit. Forgive someone. Tell someone you love them. Speak your needs.
When seeing people around you, what connections can you make with them? How are your stories similar? What support could you offer? What benefit of the doubt do they need right now?