Our world is full of heated arguments from people who have experienced deep wounding from others. We are living in a day where the wounded are not staying down. They are rising, refusing to be pushed around any longer.

They’re fighting back and it’s awesome… and it’s also not great at the same time.

Yes it’s awesome that women are fighting for their voices, positions of influence they show they deserve. Yes it’s awesome that the LGBTQ are fighting for rights and saying it’s not ok to be disowned, abandoned, and treated with rejection. It’s awesome that minorities are rising up to tell stories of the affects of colonialism, inequality, and discrimination.

But the lack of empathy I see in our world doesn’t feel awesome. It feels toxic.

My son comes home from school feeling like he has no voice as a male. One day he jumped in the car and yelled out, “Stupid feminists!!” I was taken back. In that moment I had to try very hard not to react because as a woman in leadership, I have experienced first hand why there is feminism. I don’t agree with some of the methods ladies use to fight for their rights, but the reason they fight is still there even though there has been much improvement.

It reminds me why I say: “You can write, ‘Everyone Belongs’ on your walls or in constitutions all you want, but until the person next to you FEELS IT, it’s bullshit.” (sorry to my faith filled friends for the language but I can’t think of a better word to describe what it really is)

The reason there is still feminism is because women are told they belong, but don’t feel it.

The reason the LGBTQ is fighting for equality is because they are told they belong but don’t
feel it.

The reason why minorities are raising their voices is because they are told they belong but they don’t feel it.

Before I go into this rant with my son, I ask him, “Do you believe in equal rights for women?”. To this he answered, “Of course I do, Mom but don’t strip me of my rights to have it.”

Wow. Spoken from a twelve year old. The problem we have in our world is that in order for some to feel they have rights means the rights of others are being stripped. And he’s right. University enrolment according to Stats Canada acclaim that now women are the majority with 60% female enrollment. We’ve gone from yelling at men for equal rights to now calling out their lazy asses. This is a perfect example of what happens when we campaign for rights by calling down another. People throw their hands up and give up. I wonder when the time will come when men will start advocating for their own equal rights.

And the cycle continues…

Humility is to say, “You’re right, I don’t understand what it’s like for you, but I do understand the emotions you feel around being pushed aside, ignored, and misjudged.” I can find empathy in my experiences as a woman, and now being an older woman and all the garage that goes along with that. Identifying with others emotions have the potential to connect us. Listening to others stories without shutting it down can bring clarity and healing. We do ourselves and others no justice when we compare guns and tell someone their experiences don’t matter because they aren’t as important as ours. There’s disconnection at its best.

We have to stop fighting for the reasons we are disconnected and start fighting for human connection.

I want to teach my son how to connect with women, their rights and feelings and advocate for himself and others with empathy.

Empathy is a key player in having braver conversations around these issues, so here’s what I’m teaching my son:

1. It’s never ok to make anyone feel like their story doesn’t matter, their voice should not be heard, or they are less than. Realize you come to this world with a certain point of view you have inheirted through your family, experiences, beliefs etc. Just because someone’s experience has been different doesn’t mean they are wrong. Just because you have your experiences doesn’t mean you are wrong either.

2. In order to truly experience the peace and equality we all want, we have to choose to put ourselves in the other person’s shoes before our own comfort. We have to lay down our need to be right – even if we think we are. Be curious about what’s underneath what’s being said instead of assuming. Everyone has to do this, not just one side.

3. Remember that empathy is not connecting to someone else’s experiences, but the emotions behind that experience. Human emotion unites us. That felt like: shame, fear, sadness, humiliation – we all can dig deep and find our own unique experiences where we have FELT the same thing. If both sides aren’t willing to do this, then we’ve hit a wall and connection isn’t the goal, being right is – and no one ever wins at that game.

4. Know your boundaries. Know what types of conversations you are willing to engage in and which one’s you aren’t. Good conversations include a willingness to listen to others experiences and be listened to. To learn from others experiences and the humility of all involved to say, “Thanks for sharing that, I never saw it that way before.”
Conversations to avoid are ones where blame needs to be cast, judgments and assumptions are made, and the need to be right is the centrepiece. Where those involved are only about comparing war wounds and who has the right to be hurt the most. We have to stop seeing every situation through the eyes of our own wounds. Our perspective becomes distorted.

5. Ask, “What do you need from me?”
Now we start talking solutions. Where does the answer always start – with yourself. So what can you, yourself do. Not “those people”, but YOU. You will only know if you ask. You may be surprised what they say!

6. Embrace the discomfort.
Talking about these issues is indeed uncomfortable. The reason why things are blown out of proportion is because it’s easier to stay in our own echo chamber and complain about why things are the way they are with people who feel exactly the same as us. This is why it’s dangerous when only women talk to other women about feminism, gays only talk to other gays about inequality, minorities only talk to other minorities about oppression. We need braver conversations where we listen to the other side and be ok with how uncomfortable that will feel at first. But again, we need to do it with empathy and connection as the goal. The reason it may have not worked in the past was because this wasn’t the goal.

7. Understand that everyone has the same felt need: TO BE UNDERSTOOD.
When people are heard, seen, and understood there is courage, freedom, safety, unity.
When people are not understood they become the worst versions of themselves and things get ugly fast. If I know that those whom I am seeking to connect with only want to be understood, I can give them that gift right off the top and maybe we’ll get somewhere?

“Emapthy is a skill. It’s not about us and them, it’s about all of us.
Because empathy is a hard skill, it means you will screw it up big time more than once.
Make this commimtent to yourself: ‘I agree to practice empathy, screw it up, circle back, clean it up, try again.’” – Brene Brown.