Empathy hurts

Peter Brownell
Jun 15, 2017 · 2 min read

I’ve always thought that I was fairly good at getting people to hear each other, but my last few months have revealed to me depths I had never imagined.

I find myself experiencing a sensation very much like that first time, in my youth, I went snorkelling in the sea, swam over some rocks, and suddenly saw the ocean floor vanish beneath me. Strange creatures, an alien landscape and a sense of awe at how big everything was underneath the surface, left me desperate for breath and clawing myself back to the shallow waters.

For the last few days Lisa has been sharing with me some of the basic concepts of Non Violent Communication. Just a few simple examples, just the basics, but, as I have explored the concepts, and attempted to put them into practice in a tricky context, it’s opened something. I’ve had a look under the surface, and seen parts of my life in a new way. I’m having to do some deep breathing.

All I have done is take a peek. I’ve been building up to this for a while, understanding the context and seeing the need for better ways of communicating, so perhaps I was ready to begin. But, seeing how I have struggled with empathy, seeing how little I have listened, and knowing I have only caught a glimpse so far, has brought up a wave of sadness.

I have made so many mistakes, treated those I care for so poorly, taken actions that have, despite my best intentions and deepest love, still created so much pain. And all this simply because I did not take the time to listen, or speak, with empathy. It hurts.

I’m not trying to avoid this pain however. It’s easy to be critical of our older selves, but the job here is to have empathy for ourselves as well as others. The world under the surface is filled with so much beauty. I’m preparing to go back in. Gently equipping myself with more of what I need to go deeper into this world that I have somehow managed to pretend was not waiting for me to dive in.

The sea is so much bigger than the land I have explored so far. Oh boy.


Exploring the art of looking backward and inward

Peter Brownell

Written by

Human and technical systems. Not all that good at remembering specifics but configured to seek the patterns. Aspires to become a gardener.


Exploring the art of looking backward and inward

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