Empathy struggle

I struggle listening to her.

Doesn’t she see you don’t get more harmony and collaboration by putting your child in time out? Or that slapping him in a “pedagogically way” doesn’t bring more understanding? Let alone peace?

She should do the Judge-Your-Neighbor Worksheet by Byron Katie. So she can learn how to accept him as he is, instead of wanting to change him. If she connects to her own triggers that come up in this relationship, she can take responsibility for her own feelings and needs, instead of blaming her child for them.

Image courtesy flickr.comI get more and more anxious and frustrated and find it more and more difficult to listen to her. If only she would see the world from my perspective…

Wait a minute…

I want her to accept people around her as they are and accept responsibility for her own triggers? I want her to stop blaming others and wanting to change them?…

Didn’t I just try to change her myself?

What if I do the Judge-Your-Neighbor Worksheet? What if I accept her as she is? What if I work on my own triggers as they come up, instead of wanting her to be different?

I pause. I take a deep breath. I express myself. “I got triggered as I listened to you. I need three minutes to listen to myself, so I understand what’s going on for me. I want you to have the empathy you need, and I am not sure if I am a source of support for you in this moment.”

She stops and gives me space.

I realize I might not be up to listening to her strategies. And I might be up to respectfully understand the feelings and needs behind those strategies.

After a few minutes I ask her: “Tell me about your frustration.” She starts crying. She tells me about all those times she felt overwhelmed, lost, and scared. All the times her sense of support, understanding, acceptance, love, contribution were unmet. As early as a young child.

I listen. I get her. I totally get her. I get her pain and suffering and my heart softens.

Empathy isn’t difficult at all. As long as I focus on our shared human experience of feelings and needs. I might struggle at the level of strategies. If I do, I can always focus back on those precious feelings and beautiful needs. I bet you can too and find the connection, closeness, and understanding you want, when you focus on feelings and needs.

You want to learn to empathize with yourself if you are triggered when you empathize? Contact me 512-589-0482 for a free discovery session to see how I can help.

Do cop killers really exist?

He is a cop killer.

The trial prosecutor wants him dead: “He’s a really bad guy”. And so it is.

We execute Licho Escamilla Wednesday October 14.

Cop killers never get a stay.

But is he a cop killer?

Well, yeah!!!

He shot an officer in the back of his head, three times. That pretty much makes him a cop killer, doesn’t it?

Nonviolent Communication teaches to value observations, as if you are a fly on the wall recording what’s happening, without emotional attachment about what is recorded. NVC distinguishes observations from interpretations, judgments, or evaluations. These judgments include our thoughts about what someone is doing, instead of an objective description of the specific action in this moment, in this place. They often confuse the part for the whole, generalizing the specific action as to the way of being of a person. He is a “thief” versus “someone who took the $50 that I thought was mine off the table this last Saturday”. And when we label people, we divide them into two categories: good and bad. Licho Escamilla is a bad guy, and doesn’t deserve our consideration. Thich Nhat Hanh is a good guy and deserves our care.

Yes. Licho Escamilla killed someone who earned a living as a cop.

All that is true. And it is not complete. No truth is true, as long as it is not complete. Yes, Licho Escamilla shot Christopher K. James to death. And he is also someone wanting to be held, loved and cared for. He is a human being with feelings and needs. He is more than the killing. He shot a cop in a specific place and time. Once. He is not a cop killer. He is someone who had no clue how to support his needs and ours at the same time. Someone who was so stuck in the habit of expressing his unmet needs in tragic ways, that he ended up killing another human being.

As soon as we see Licho Escamilla as more than this action, we see the human being who needs our help. That doesn’t only humanize him, it humanizes us. We get to stop playing God and carry the burden of deciding who is right and who is wrong, who deserves our love and who doesn’t. We return to our human state.

We acknowledge that we are more than our judgments, interpretations, and evaluations.

You want to practice observations? Contact me 512-589-0482 for a free discovery session to see how I can help.

This is the fourth blog around “us-versus-them”. Contact me if you have a topic or issue you would like me to write about.

Protective use of force

“I respect y’all opinions, but if they didn’t do these vicious killings, we wouldn’t have to kill them.”

A bypasser calls to us as we sit in silent witness for the scheduled execution of Juan Garcia on the steps of Texas State Capitol. Juan is executed for the 1998 murder of Hugh Solano, who had just moved to Houston from Mexico to give his children a better education. Juan killed him during an $8 robbery when he was a teenager.

I sit as silent witness each time we execute an inmate. Often, I find the descriptions of their acts horrendous indeed. The worst was a woman who had tied her girlfriend’s six year old son to a bed and starved him to death. I felt and feel repulsed as I try to imagine the agony, terror, despair, loneliness, bewilderment the child must have experienced in the days before his death.

It takes all my commitment and empathy skills to not see this woman as a monster.

I fail. Big time.

I drag myself to the steps of Texas State Capitol not because I believed I can change her, or prevent these acts, or change our punitive system. I sit there because I don’t want to be changed by my thirst for revenge or punishment.

“There may be times when we are powerless to prevent injustice, but there must never be a time when we fail to protest.”
Elie Wiesel

I want to take a stand for a system that values restorative justice and protective use of force, no matter the circumstances. I want to believe that there is a human being behind the most horrendous acts. A human being who was born innocent and needed our care and consideration. Someone who was not designed to kill. Someone whose life went horribly wrong.

Yes, I believe we do need to protect ourselves and our needs for safety, from those who lack the empathy, or even the conscience to include our needs for safety. Just like locks on our houses and pins for our bank cards support our sense of safety. I also think we still need prisons. And I want our prisons to be based in our capacity for respect, love and compassion. I want inmates to receive as much support and understanding as we can possibly muster.

Maybe not because they deserve it, but because we deserve institutions that reflect our commitment to our shared and compassionate humanity.


You want to hold onto your commitment to empathy and mindfulness, no matter the challenges? Contact me 512-589-0482 for a free discovery session to see how I can help.

This is the third blog around “us-versus-them”. Contact me if you have a topic or issue you would like me to write about.

How can you empathize with a psychopath?

Repulsed. Shocked. Disturbed. Terrified.

the act of killingI watched the trailer to the documentary “The Act of Killing”. It starts with one of the killings Anwar Congo and his death squad committed during the Suharto extermination of alleged communists in the sixties. You see and hear the terror of those who are about to be burned alive. I felt no less repulsed and horrified when I realized that these are not actual killings, but enactments in a studio with actors who survive, staged by the killers.

I felt most shocked that the killers seem quite satisfied and pleased with themselves and their acts. No shred of remorse, guilt, or shame. They don’t see themselves as war criminals. “That term is defined by the winners. And we won,” as one of the killers says.

I feel appalled. How is it possible that these killers walk around happily and at peace after killing thousands of men, women, children and elderly? How don’t they have a troubled conscience? They cannot be human, they must be psychopaths without feelings, and we have nothing in common.

When Joshua Oppenheimer, the director, started filming he pledged to approach his subjects without judgments, even though he judged their killings. He was committed to approach the killers with kindness, and an openness to connect. It was a challenge for him. Many times he had to retreat from the project to self-connect and self-care, before he was able to engage them with at least some kind of basic kindness. He had many moments where he wanted reassurance he isn’t like them.

Till he realizes the difference is only relative, not absolute. That he -fortunately- had never been in a situation where he would find out that he could commit the same horrendous acts. That he always had enough support and creativity to meet his needs in more wholesome ways.

What if Oppenheimer is right? That I have -deep down- the same seeds that could bring me to commit the most sadistic acts, maybe even with joy and delight? Seeds that haven’t been watered yet, that are still held in a container of mindfulness and compassion, that lay dormant in my subconscious, and yet… the same seeds that triggered the killers to commit those crimes?

I pray it isn’t true.

And I know it is.

If I want to contribute to a world with respect for life, I need to look into both the wholesome and unwholesome seeds in my subconscious. So that I can take good care of the unwholesome ones, transform them into wholesome ones, and hopefully never act with sadism.

You want to embrace your unwholesome seeds with mindfulness and compassion? Contact me 512-589-0482 for a free discovery session to see how I can help.

This is the second blog around “us-versus-them”. Next week I intend to write about protective use of force.