life will be violent, all will be lost

We have developed speed but we have shut ourselves in. Machinery that gives abundance has left us in want. Our knowledge has made us cynical, our cleverness hard and unkind. We think too much and feel too little. More than machinery we need humanity; more than cleverness we need kindness and gentleness. Without these qualities, life will be violent and all will be lost.

Charles Chaplin
(speech from the Jewish barber in The Great Dictator)

get out of my shoes now



Empathy is the new black.

Schools are teaching empathy to children. Leaders are encouraged to display EQ as much as IQ. Many books explore building empathy. It’s a core coaching skill. Developmental psychiatrists and psychologists are exploring the roots of empathy in animals and the deep nature of its place in our humanity. True empathy is good. Deeply human.

To be clear empathy, as opposed to sympathy, could be described as feeling with someone, rather than feeling for someone. “I feel your anguish” as opposed to “I am sorry you’re hurting”.

It is standing in their shoes to experience their emotions.

But empathy requires thoughts as well as feelings. It is also a two person activity. So to be truly empathetic we need to balance thought and emotion as well as balance self and other. Recognising and sharing in someone else’s complex emotional state is in itself a complex inner experience, and it requires considerable self awareness and control to walk that line, be useful, be safe, keep them safe.

Otherwise empathy becomes a trap.

We can feel we are being held hostage by the other person’s feelings. Imprisoned in our own thought / feeling response. Balance requires us to have the self awareness and the dexterity and subtlety to pay attention to another’s needs whilst not sacrificing our own needs. We need to be able to recognise what is our stuff and what belongs to the person we are empathising with. Also what emerges in the soup of the empathetic interaction. What needs to stay in the soup, neither theirs nor ours.

Putting ourselves in someone else’s shoes is something the receiver can find deeply rewarding. Addictive even. That puts the onus on us to know when to extract ourselves from their shoes. And how.

Equally, overly empathic people may lose the ability to know what they want or need. They may have a diminished ability to make decisions in their own best interest, experience physical and psychological exhaustion from deflecting their own feelings.

We need to be able to stand in our own shoes too.


who or what is twiddling the dimmer switch?

dim your power
I have been speaking these past two days about giving your power away. How it diminishes you and your potential.

So who or what have you handed control to?

Is it your boss? Or is it your partner, your spouse or your lover? Have you handed it to a parent or a sibling? Does fear have your power? Do you give it to controlling and domineering people? Have you handed it to another part of you? Maybe the ambitious part, maybe the parent in you, maybe to the part of you that fears being great?

Have you given it to comfort foods, alcohol, drugs or other forms of escape? Have you given it to taking care of everyone else? Or to the people you see as more worthy than you? Do you let people who are unhappy drain and suck your energy? Have you given your power away to money or time, the scarcity or lack of it?

Or have you given your power to a social institution such as the government, a religion or a philosophy? Or to someone in authority or a position of power, such as a doctor, a lawyer?

Take back control of your dimmer switch and turn yourself up bright.

leaking power through thought

habits of thought leaking power
I wrote yesterday about giving our power away.

We do this in our patterns of thought too. Our habits of mind can cause our power to leak away. Dissipate. Below is only a partial list of ways you might do this. Study the list. Notice your habits.

Do you spend time, in your head, beating yourself up?
Do you have regular thoughts about being better than…?
Or about not being as good as…?
Do you judge yourself and come up short?
Do you focus on pleasing others?
Do you catastrophise and fear the worst before it’s happened?
Do you regret old failures or lost opportunities?
Do you replay old hurts or difficult conversations in your head?
Is it a pattern of thought to be bitter about circumstance and to think about how unfair things are?
Do you over focus on enemies or on revenge?
Are your thoughts directed to taking control?

Or maybe you have another pattern of thought?

Your life energy is a resource – you can use it wisely or squander it just like any other resource. Make an estimate of how much of your thought you spend on habitual thinking which gives away your power. Then address it.

when the power is lost, the lights go out

giving power away
A colleague at work has been leading a new project. She has surveyed the territory, read the research, summarised the viewpoints and gathered the core material. It’s time to document our stance and intended direction.

She invited others to share this work, valuing a collective approach. Now a couple of drafts have been produced, attributed to their shared work, but my colleague is disappointed. Disappointed in herself.

I discussed it with her. The work has lost the essence and the inspiration she found through the research, but also, it no longer reflects her.

We explored how she has given her power away.

We can all do this.

We give our power away when we doubt ourselves. When we try to make everyone happy or look for others approval and validation, thereby over-empowering them.
We give our power away when we fail to honour or share our personal truth. We do it when we compare ourselves to others or worry what other people will think. We do it when we forget that we know what we’re doing and that we are good at it. We do it when we have poor boundaries and allow others emotional activity to intimidate us and leak into our world. We do it when we lose sight of what we need or want, instead placing focus on what we see externally in the world as the blocker – lack of money, time, ability, looks, weight…

But giving your power away diminishes you, disables you, casts your personal light in shadow.

needs and wants, wants and needs

want need
Waiting in for a plumber. I’m not good at waiting for someone. Deliveries, tradesmen etc. My choice is removed. I’m in their control.

I want to get out.

I need to wait though. We may have a leak. A telltale little brown patch has appeared on a ceiling.

I should wait. The leak could get worse. Despite this more sensible course of action, I’m still drawn to go out. Nowhere special, just to have the freedom to decide. It’s the freedom I want. The expert opinion I probably need.

The tension between what we want and what we need is intriguing. Are needs more powerful than wants? Are needs more fundamental to our sense of self and our wellbeing? Certainly needing shelter, water, food would seem to be basic needs. Yet wanting something can be a pretty strong draw too. Wanting to move, wanting freedom, growth, learning, progression, choice. These too are powerful motivators.

Refugees and economic migrants pouring into Europe seem to demonstrate the power of wanting a better life for your family. Wanting opportunity. Wanting freedom. Or is the migration need driven? The need for safety, for security?

I wonder if our modern world has confused the two? Do I need a new phone, or do I simply want one? Do I want a hug, or are there times I absolutely need one?

Do we know the difference any more? The difference between a need and a want? How the difference motivates our thinking? Which has more feeling? Which trumps the other? Which do we value more? The things we want and have, or the things we need and have?

Are the words interchangeable, or is it some other orientation in our lives that motivates us to prefer one word over the other? Do independent people have a penchant for wanting things? Is wanting essentially selfish? Wanting something certainly implies choice, preference. Needing something suggests less choice. It suggests necessity.

But is it the same for us all? Is there a common thread to our humanity? Or is this a more personal matter?

Maybe you want to know? Or need to? Maybe you don’t? Understanding that which motivates us would seem to be useful though? How your choice of language impacts your thinking, your emotions, your behaviours?