An Eclectic Human
A newsletter about design, community, and being a human

1.17 At least

I’ve been thinking about empathy again.

This short video by Brené Brown came across my radar and it delighted and touched me. Take three minutes and watch it right now.

This is the part that most affected me this week:

Rarely, if ever, does an empathic response begin with “at least”.

During a recent conversation with a friend, I used that phrase twice. This friend wasn’t sharing anything particularly deep or difficult, and she didn’t find my use of the phrase offensive in context. But it struck me how casually and glibly I used it, and how in another context it could have been devastating. I’ve started to wonder how many other ways I shunt off my empathy and substitute paltry sympathy by the casual words I throw around.

Holden shared an article by Yael Grauer called “Empathy Can Change the World: An Open Letter to the Tech Scene”. Yael recently lost her friend Sam to suicide, and she talks about what we as friends, coworkers, and acquaintances can do to perhaps make things better. Depression is a difficult thing to understand, but it’s even more difficult to experience. Sometimes our empathy can impart strength.

We can be stuck in our own heads and our own egos, focusing only on impressing others, and perhaps in the process creating a backdrop in which someone else’s depression grows. Or we can reach out to people, even if they’re a bit shy or awkward or can’t do anything for us, and show them that they’re valuable anyway—in the process, chipping away at their depression or false view of the world.

If you and I can be just a little more aware of how we show (or hide) our empathy, that would be a benefit for all of us.

• • •

On a lighter note, Maria wrote a few things about anticipation. She ardently does not share my fond feelings toward winter. It’s a much harsher season in Utah than her native Florida. However, she does love storytelling. Here are her thoughts about contentment in anticipation for sequels or second seasons of favorite movies, books, and TV shows:

This may seem weird, but I look forward with great anticipation to the release of that second movie, or third book, or fourth season. I love those characters and can’t wait to see them back in action, to discover what they’ve been up to since I was last with them. The excitement bubbles up inside me and, as you have no doubt seen, it often spills out on the evening of the premiere. I’m energetic and jumpy, as if the excitement can’t be kept in any longer.

Having attended several movie premiers with Maria, I can confirm that her energy is indeed palpable.

Sometimes it feels like waiting might kill you, like in the case of certain shows that take two years to premiere a new season (here’s looking at you, Sherlock). But after it’s all over and I’ve seen the movie or watched the series and I get to go back and see it again, I always remember how I felt when I was waiting. I always remember how excited I was. That excitement, the anticipation, makes the final movie that much better (or that much worse). Whatever the ultimate experience of the story, whether Harry’s triumph over Voldemort or discovering the secret to Sherlock’s fall, the waiting has always made the story better. I will remember the two years I spent agonizing, reading theories, and trying to work out how Sherlock could have jumped from a roof and not died. I will always remember the years I spent going to Harry Potter midnight releases. I will always remember the night we went to see How To Train Your Dragon 2 and I walked into the movie listening to the first soundtrack and out of the movie listening to the second.

Here she gets to the crux of my hunch that anticipation makes memories more powerful:

As I think about how the anticipation changes my experience, I find that I am more content to feel anticipation. I used to say, “I can’t wait for this thing to come out, or such and such to premiere.” And while it is still hard to wait, the waiting makes it all the more satisfying. So, I find myself more contented in the waiting, allowing myself to feel the excitement and anticipation, knowing that it adds so much to my final experience and memories. While others may not quite understand, this is one place I find contentment in anticipation.

She finishes off with this thought:

But it’s not the only place I feel it. I look forward to graduating. I have been looking forward to it for years. But I recently realized that once I graduate, I won’t be in college anymore. So, instead of moaning about my classes and how hard they are, I’m enjoying using my brain and learning something new. Soon, I’ll have to learn entirely on my own, so I choose to take advantage of my current position. I am content in my anticipation of graduation. I think this is what people mean when they say to live in the moment. It doesn’t mean don’t prepare or look forward to the future, but simply to find contentment in where you are, while looking forward to who you will and can be.

• • •

Have you learned anything recently about empathy that has changed how you try to help others?

As always, thank you for reading and for sharing your thoughts with me. I thoroughly enjoy exchanging ideas with you.