“And that’s what is so insidious about talk. Anyone can talk about himself or herself. Even a child knows how to gossip and chatter. Most people are decent at hype and sales. So what is scarce and rare? Silence. The ability to deliberately keep yourself out of the conversation and subsist without its validation. Silence is the respite of the confident and the strong.”
―Ryan Holiday, Ego Is the Enemy
I read a parable a short while ago about the Flying Spaghetti Monster. I’m going to do my best today to remember the gist.
One day a man was going through an existential crisis.
So, naturally, he got on his knees and he prayed to the Great Flying Spaghetti Monster to show him Light and Darkness. That way, he could distinguish, once and for all, the difference.
And go forth in that understanding.
The amazing, gracious Great Flying Spaghetti Monster, who from here on will be referred to as simply GFSM (because typing out its full name is already becoming tiresome), to the man’s surprise, appeared and said, “Come, I will show you.”
The GFSM extended a noodle and the man grabbed ahold and they flew off at near-light speed into the Heavens.
“This, my son,” GFSM told the man as they burst through a great, pearly door, “is Heaven!”
[Cue the choir of angel song and blinding white light]
“Whoaaaa,” the man gurgled with delight as his eyes glazed over with astonishment.
Inside this beautiful room there was a majestic, infinitely long table on which, the GFSM explained, everyone in the world could fit. On top of this table was an infinite amount of food, from which, the GFSM said, everyone in the world could eat.
“Here is a world of plenty, where everyone, weak or strong, has a seat and not a single soul starves.”
But the man noticed something strange. All of the silverware had exceptionally long stems.
“Hmm. Why are th…whoa!”
Before he could finish his question, his squirming majesty of pasta thrust him downwards and boomed: “Now, I will show you Hell.”
They flew into the depths of the Underworld, deep into the darkness, until, finally, they reached another door. Which, to the man’s surprise, looked exactly like the door to Heaven.
“This,” the GFSM said, this time in a much more solemn tone as they burst through the door, “is what Hell looks like.”
[Cue the choir of angel song and the blinding white light]
“Whoaaaa,” he gurgled again, eyes glazed over with aston-, “Wait… huh?”
The room was exactly the same.
“This is Hell?” the man said as he swiveled on his toes and craned his neck and bent on his knees to see what he might be missing.
The same majestic, infinitely long table. The same food. And the same silverware.
“Here, too, is a world of plenty, where everyone, weak or strong, has a seat. And, again, the silverware, as you can see,” the GFSM said as he noodled a spoon by its exceptionally long stem, “is exceptionally long.”
“Everything’s the same!” the man shouted, his voice echoing through the infiniteness.
“Indeed,” the GFSM said.
In Heaven, the GFSM explained, all of the people are well fed and happy and filled with purpose because everyone is going around feeding whoever is hungry and accepting food from others who are doing the same.
In Hell, though, all of the people are paper thin and starved and sickly because they’re all obsessively focused only on foolishly trying to feed themselves.
“The choice, you see,” the GFSM said as he disappeared into the ether, “is up to the people.”
These days, with the country divided more than ever (second to, of course, that whole Civil War thing), I thought this analogy was worthwhile.
You might not like what I’m about to say, but it’s true.
The average individual who supports Hillary, Trump, Bernie, Johnson or Stein, is a lot more like you than he or she (or zhe?) is different.
[Cue the collective GASP!]
This individual likely wants to live in a better (and, yes, freer) world. But one that promises to be more equitable. Where the fat cats can no longer run roughshod over the little guy. Where everyone has a chance to succeed. Where nobody has the right to take advantage of the downtrodden, the weak, the vulnerable, or the oppressed.
If your only source of information is the media, it’s probably hard to believe this is true. (This goes for alt-media, too, unfortunately. Which, I’ll be the first to admit, isn’t without its own biases.)
But if you’ve never hit the streets and looked square in the eyes of people of all stripes — even those who you wildly disagree with — it’s easy to dehumanize “them.” Hate “them.” See them as the “other.”
Truth be told, the past few months have been eye-opening. It’s been horrifying to watch people allow politics tear apart deep, long standing relationships. I’ve seen people allow clowns get in the way of their connections with friends, family and even spouses.
And, through this, I’ve come to one important realization: That’s not who I want to be. And that’s not what I represent.
I’ve talked to a great mishmash of people over the past few months from all walks of life. Most of them were amazing people. A few of them were simply [expletive deleted]bags. And I disagreed with most of them on A LOT of basic things. What I’ve found, though, during the times I was willing to shut up and listen, is that, when it comes down to it, we all want the same things for ourselves and others.
And there’s absolutely no reason why we should spew hate and vitriol at one another for our surface beliefs. Especially not over a few dumbos who think they can steer this ship back to sanity. (They can’t. It’s up to us.)
It’s extremely easy to forget that we are a country full of individuals whose lives (and pasts) are infinitely complex — and we’re all just trying our best to make sense of all of this craziness. And, in the midst of it all, we’re all trying to do what we think is best for ourselves and our loved ones.
We live in extremely confusing, and for many people, very scary times.
But this bickering back and forth… this endless game of dehumanization… isn’t working. More than anything, it just allows for us all to become pawns on the political chessboard. Simpletons.
Lapdogs of the political class.
But, fear not. There’s a simple antidote to this madness. And it can start today, here, with you.
One word: Empathy.
It’s the most underrated skill on Earth. And we need more of it.
Not just so you can become a better communicator with those who are voting for the “other” guy or gal (may the GFSM noodle peace into their souls).
Empathy also makes you a better spouse, parent, relative, friend, and, yes, entrepreneur.
That’s right. Empathy can even make you rich, too. (Because how else are you going to know what your future customers want than by understanding who they are and how they perceive the world?)
Empathy, not hate, is more likely to help you live a better, freer life, and make your wildest dreams come true.
Using the tool of empathy, you’re given the opportunity to lead by example. To suspend the ego and lead with the heart for a change. To understand the so-called “enemy” on a deeper level.
And to also get back to the basics and realize…
Not every word is the beginning of an argument. Not every conversation is an opportunity to prove a point. The world needs far more ears than it needs mouths.
So, today, we offer up a challenge.
Step out of your mind as much as you can. See the world through a more empathetic lens. Step into the shoes of those who you are, according to the Politico Paradigm, “supposed” to hate.
Rustle those “mirror neurons” out of their slumber.
And extend your spoon.
If only to relieve yourself of the self-induced stress of this year’s carnival.
To help you do so, we’ve pulled 13 tips from Dan Norris’ excellent book Create or Hate. We encourage you to print these out and carry them with you as a reminder empathy, not hate, is the way forward.
Create or Hate: 13 Ways to Become More Empathetic
Empathy is another way to kill negativity. Because most of us are fundamentally self-interested, we oversimplify things and undervalue them.
Becoming a more empathetic person makes you more understanding, more grateful, less negative, and therefore more creative.
The secret to empathy is not imagining what it’s like to be in someone else’s shoes. Because all that does is put you in their shoes. It’s them in their shoes that we need to understand, not you in their shoes.
When you prescribe simple solutions to people’s problems, that’s mistakenly putting yourself in someone else’s shoes. For example, when someone is overweight, a typical response to the situation may be to think: “just exercise more and stop eating McDonalds!” Because that’s what you would do.
But that person is not you. They might have had a lifetime of being put down; they might have low or non-existent self-esteem; they might not even understand the value of healthy food; they might have tried to join the gym 10 times and failed every time. You don’t really know their circumstances, but you assume you know their situation, because we assume everyone is like us.
You need to first accept that you really don’t know what it’s like to be someone other than yourself. Once you accept that, you won’t be as quick to judge. You will be more likely to listen and observe and try to understand people better.
Empathy is an extremely difficult skill to master because no one lives inside someone else’s body and mind. But there are things you can do to improve it:
1. Start from this simple place: You are a self-interested human being. Everything you see, you apply your own context to. But everyone else is also self-interested, and they apply their context to everything. Admit that: “I actually don’t understand anyone unless I make an attempt to understand them.”
2. Don’t rush into responses and don’t rush to judgment.
3. The next time you see someone driving fast, don’t be so quick to judge assume you know everything about that person and why they are doing it. If you can judge people less, you can understand people better.
4. Notice empathy in others. Most people don’t have a lot of empathy, but some people do. If you can notice it when you see it, you are more likely to improve your own skills. Notice people who are curious, who don’t just talk about themselves but eagerly want to hear about others.
5. Spend more time in person with friends, customers, and business colleagues. It’s very easy to make snap judgments online and forget about the people behind the status updates. Spending more time in person cuts through it all and helps you to remember and really understand the individual.
6. Don’t talk as much. During a conversation, listen more and ask open questions. People will fill in the gaps with their own words, and you’ll learn more about them and focus less on yourself.
7. Create more things. It’s very easy to judge someone else for something they made if you don’t ever create anything for yourself. The more you create, the more you will understand what people go through while putting their ideas out into the world. Ultimately, you’ll be less quick to judge.
8. Realize that empathy and sympathy are not the same thing. Saying, “oh, you poor thing,” doesn’t make someone feel like they’ve been heard. Instead, take your time and really try to understand how it might feel to be that person. Sympathy could even make it worse. Avoid amplifying the grief of others by dwelling on their suffering. They don’t want grief; they didn’t ask for it. It’s not about you.
9. Being overly optimistic can actually hurt empathy. If you are feeling down about something, and your loved ones are just saying, “it’s great, you are awesome,” the outcome can be the opposite to what was intended. It will make you feel like the person isn’t really understanding, and it will kill communication. If a person is down about something, pretending everything is amazing is the opposite of empathy. It doesn’t mean dwelling on their negativity, it just means listening.
10. The next time you are in a conversation, stop yourself from talking unless you have to. Not interrupting will help you understand what it’s like to go into a conversation with no agenda and with your full attention on actually listening to the other person. Don’t make any sympathetic noises such as ‘oooooh’ or ‘yeah’ or ‘right’ (another reason in person conversations are best). Instead, just ask the occasional question if the silence is unbearable. Empathy is about listening. The more you talk, the less you are listening.
11. Learn to become a better listener and communicator. Reading books on communication or doing training in communication will make you notice when you are acting with judgment as opposed to empathy.
12. What about the idea of Difficult Empathy Problems (DEP)? Don’t just feel empathy for people who are very much like you. What if you challenged yourself to feel empathy for people who you really struggled to understand? What about feeling empathy for people filled with hate?
13. Practice reading other people’s emotions. What do you notice about the body language, their speed of talking, their eyes, their words? The more you can understand how people express emotions, the more you will understand other people.
[Ed. note: These 13 ways were pulled from Dan Norris’ book, Create or Hate. Dan is a brilliant serial entrepreneur and author who teaches people how to build not just kick ass businesses, but also kick ass lives. Learn more about Dan here.]