These are dark times in the United States.
The worst pandemic in 100 years. The worst economic crisis since the Great Depression. The worst social outrage since the late 60’s. All happening at once.
This once-in-a-lifetime confluence of events has affected different people differently.
- I have friends who are extremely careful about social distancing and wearing masks.
- I have friends who think COVID-19 isn’t that big a deal and are getting back to normal.
- I have friends who are out of work indefinitely due to the pandemic.
- I have friends whose 25-year-old businesses have been obliterated by the pandemic.
- I have friends who are out protesting racial injustice.
- I have friends whose offices have been looted and their neighborhoods destroyed.
I’m highly conscious of the fact that I am less affected by what’s going on than most people: I’ve always worked from home. I have a career where there is a great demand for my services and I can’t be laid off. I have a great relationship with a wife who is also a stay-at-home-mom. I have 2 kids who are best friends. I live in a 4-bedroom-house with a pool in a suburb adjacent to parks, hikes, and the beach. The worst part of the last few months is that I can’t go to spin class and had to cancel concert tickets and travel plans. Which is to say that I’m in the 1% of the 1% of privilege and, therefore, in no position to tell anyone what to think or how to feel.
…this is a time for humility and empathy.
The reason I’m writing today is not that I have the one true insight that will magically heal the world, but, rather, for the opposite reason: because this is a time for humility and empathy. And, in my opinion, those are two qualities that are at an all-time low.
Stephen Covey famously said, “First seek to understand.” That is what I’m trying hard to do right now and what I’d like to gently suggest to you as well.
Whatever you’re feeling or posting on Facebook right now is valid.
Yet just because your feelings are valid doesn’t mean that they’re “right,” that anyone who disagrees with you is “wrong,” or that doing things your way is a universal win for everybody in society.
If you’re wary of the government, have issues around privacy and vaccines, you’re going to have a certain reaction to CDC guidelines and scientific recommendations – and your actions and rhetoric will reflect that.
I am trusting of government and medicine so I have no trouble wearing a mask, staying inside, social distancing, and taking directives from leading epidemiologists.
You’re not wrong. I’m not wrong.
If you’re a working mom like my sister, you want to send your child back to school so you can actually get things done, even if the coronavirus is not yet contained.
I don’t have the same issues and I’m not comfortable sending my kid back to school yet.
She’s not wrong. I’m not wrong.
If you’re an African-American like my close friend, Cinque, you can explain to me how feeling like a second-class citizen in your own country logically leads to simmering emotions and angry protests.
My first inclination is to leap to judgment against anti-social behavior that seems to set back an important cause, but after an hour on the phone with him, I came to realize that one can forcefully condemn looting AND understand that if peaceful protest doesn’t effect change it makes sense to demand attention in other ways.
He’s not wrong. I’m not wrong.
In other words, we MUST take the time to empathize with other people’s perspectives and opinions. Yes, it’s difficult for me to take the anti-vaxxer conspiracy theorists without judging them. Yes, it’s hard to sit at home when friends are inviting us out to dinner and mocking us for staying inside.
But what I’m discovering is that the only way to survive in this world is to see people with differing opinions as honest, sincere, fully-realized human beings who simply have a different agenda for how they are going to live their lives.
Maybe my agenda – from my 1% bubble of privilege – allows me to stay at home and be happy for the next two years until there’s a coronavirus vaccine. Maybe somebody else’s livelihood depends on getting back to normal ASAP because they can’t afford to remain under lockdown without their life functionally collapsing.
Instead of imposing my opinions on them (because I want to be safe, THEY need to stay at home as I do) or them imposing their opinions on me (and forcing me to go back to theaters and schools before there is any meaningful scientific progress), we can actually agree to disagree. Furthermore, we can agree to disagree without demonizing, without insulting, without drawing the worst possible opinions about good people who are also trying to navigate this terribly complicated era with a balance of safety, economic security and sanity.
This, to me, is the fundamental truth of living: while there may only be one set of facts, there are different truths that work for different people.
Those who are most effective in life are the ones who understand this and manage to work around it. Those who retreat to the “I’m right/you’re wrong” bubble only serve to alienate others – which is problematic in a world where half the people will disagree with you on any given subject.
This is the area I’ve been straddling for years as a dating and relationship coach.
Men need to understand and appreciate a woman’s struggle – with aging, with meaningless sex, with insecurity, with societal expectations, with perpetually choosing men who ghost, criticize, vacillate, cheat, disappoint, and fail to live up to their early potential. To be good partners, men need to make women feel safe, heard, and understood – offering unconditional love that allows you to thrive in a partnership. Men who don’t treat their partners this way will never be happily married.
Similarly, women need to understand what it’s like to appreciate a man’s struggle – the volume of rejection we face, the ways in which we are not encouraged to express feelings or vulnerability, how lonely we get in middle age, how we’re driven by testosterone even when it’s bad for us, how we are not given a chance if we’re too short, uneducated or make less money, and how, no matter what we do to make you happy, it never seems like it’s enough. Men want to feel accepted, appreciated, and admired. Women who don’t treat their partners this way will never be happily married.
If you’re a woman, the first paragraph rings with the joy and clarity of being understood by a man. If you’re a single man, the second paragraph validates your life experience as to why it’s been so hard to find a happy, easy, unconditionally loving relationship.
My only point is that BOTH of these paragraphs are true.
If you can only see the truth in ONE of those paragraphs, this crisis is a wonderful opportunity to empathize with people who come from a different place, have different needs, and ultimately, want to be loved just like you.
I hope you work through the struggle to find the empathy and humility to extend to people who disagree with you, whom you’ve never met, who also have to live with you in this world, long after the current crises have passed.
Warmest wishes and much love,
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