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Kindness, Understanding, and Joy
Three weeks ago, I watched a video that I have not been able to stop thinking about. In case you do not have 13 minutes to watch this film, it is about someone with an impressive ability to understand what an animal is “saying” via a language that is clearly not English. Animal communicator Anna Breytenbach figures out why a very scary-looking black leopard named Diabolo is so troubled. The more Anna conveys her understanding and empathy to Diabolo, the more Diabolo’s frightening energy subsides. In the weeks since I saw this story, I wondered why this vignette made me such a weeping willow. In this same time frame, I witnessed or heard about many interactions between humans that were far from satisfactory. What was the common thread? A lack of understanding. Actually, not just a lack of understanding but a lack of an attempt to understand!
If it is a stretch for you to believe we can communicate with animals (there are plenty of naysayers in the comments section for this video at YouTube), pretend I just told you a fairy tale, instead. Most fairy tales have a message or two for their readers, and no one worries about how factual they are! Anna’s “dialogue” with Diabolo moved me to tears because acts of kindness almost always do. By striving to understand what made Diabolo tick, she gave him an immense gift of kindness. Can we humans give this gift to one another?
Of course we want to understand one another, right? Who in their right mind would admit to anything but that? Well, here is a fairy tale-like example. If we have an ogre who plans to kidnap the princess to extract ransom from the king, he probably will not want to stop and try to understand why the princess is sobbing. The ogre might be so impacted by the princess’s freaked out-ness that he would become too freaked out to perform the planned abduction. The ogre could lose his power. That is just one reason why we fail to understand. Empathy and understanding just might increase our vulnerability. So what do we do instead? We do not even try to understand, sometimes. And that is why there are books with titles such as Please Understand Me or I’m Not Crazy, I’m Just Not You! If we want more joy for ourselves or our loved ones, we have to stop being the ogre who fears vulnerability. We have to encounter and endorse our differentness from one another, too. But we can bestow Anna’s gift of kindness. Strive to understand: there will be payoffs.
What You Will See
Just think about some recent time when you had the pleasure of being profoundly understood by someone. There is a big Aaaaaah within and you may even want to say “Thanks so much for getting what I am talking about.” It is such a treat to get gotten! Our shoulders relax. All of our usual repertoire of defenses can relax, too. Bottom line: it feels good.
Understanding vs. Agreeing
If you disagree with someone, you may want to dig in your heels and forget about even trying to understand them. To demonstrate that you understand something about someone or what they are saying does not mean you have to agree with their viewpoint. The irony is that with more shared understanding, attempts to find common ground are more successful, even if it is just agreeing to disagree.
Your April 2014 Prompts for Joy
Click here to see the “fairy tale” of Anna and Diabolo.
Click here to see a Dad strive to understand and attend to his daughter’s fear of fireworks.
I regret to say I do not remember which kind soul sent me the link to Diabolo’s tale, but Nancy Paez gets a big shout-out for sending me this beautiful father-daughter cover of “Tonight You Belong to Me!”
Joy-Gram for April 2014
Try this tip for building your ability to understand: next time you are having a difficult interaction with someone, stop and ask yourself if you are truly striving to understand this other person’s viewpoint or are you merely preparing your next response or argument in your head while looking like you are listening? Don’t beat yourself up if the answer you get is the latter. We all do this! But the more we bring our awareness to it, the less likely? Hope so.
Some day, some innovative inventor will figure out how to send scents via e-mail. Until then, you will just have to imagine how sweet these orange blossoms smell.
By no means
do I have joy “figured out.” Please do not assume
that I do! I write Out On a Limb as much as a meditation for
myself in the ongoing pursuit of joy, as for you. I think this
pursuit is a lifelong journey and that the full experience
of joy is, at best, episodic. May we all have more episodes!
Martha Clark Scala, MFT · 721 Colorado Ave., Suite 201, Palo Alto, CA 94303 ·