Monday, December 14, 2020
The Art of Empathy
I try not to speak in platitudes or cliches or tropes. That's not empathy. Examples: Every cloud has a silver lining, into each life a little rain must fall, God closes a door so you can open a window, ad nauseum.
If someone is suffering or complaining or sharing, I try not to rain on the parade of it, the pain or regret of it.
For instance, the other night, a long standing friend shared her pain over her son getting upset and estranging himself from her because she criticised his new wife. Her son is in his fifties.
I am wise to such stuff. For instance when Daughter split up with husband when Grandgirl was only a few months old, I decided I never would criticise her husband (and he was a jerk of the highest order) which would spill over into any relationship I had with him. Why? Well, if anything happened to Daughter I needed access to Grandgirl, the light of my life, and he was not going to concede that access to a raging and seething granny, now was he? I had to see her ex periodically as we would have to pick Grandgirl up or drop her off with each other while Daughter studied or taught. It was always civil and kind.
I've passed this on to other grandparent friends as to how to conduct a relationship with their children's exes even though homicide/femicide might be on their minds. Suck it up, you will reap the benefits.
A sibling and the rest of her family spouted off at her son when he broke up with his wife. They tore his wife up six ways to Sunday. And guess what? The son reconciled with the wife and and told her what his family really thought of her and things have been frosty as ice since.
Keeping the old lips zipped is extraordinarly difficult, especially when you are asked by an adult child, "What do you really think of (insert name of hated in-law here)?". Recommended answer: "As long as you're happy, darling." And excuse yourself for a minute so you can staunch the flow of blood from your tongue. Or "the bastard's gone and left me, mum!" Recommended answer: "What can I do to help you, sweetheart?"
I only share my own experience. I never presume to offer advice for circumstances that have not affected me. And only when asked.
And to go back to the recent pain of my friend and her son and his wife.
My friend P went on a diatribe to her son calling his wife a "skank" - she was only after his money and pension and holdings. To say I was flabbergasted is to understate my reaction to her words. I desperately wanted to criticise her beaviour towards him but I wasn't going to add to her pain. I wasn't going to join in on the downtake of her DIL. I asked her was she ready to apologise and she just about screamed at me: "I wouldn't take back a word of it. She's an effin skank!" But at some level she's ashamed of this because it happened a year ago. A whole year and he refuses to speak or engage with his mother. And it was the first time she shared it with anyone.
Now P has had a turbulent unsettled life. Married 5 times, I met them all and yeah, some of them were also "skanks". Many times her son lived with her parents as she pursued the latest hubby across continents. So definitely pot and kettle come to mind. But I only feel a huge compassion for her. I've had some wonderful fun times with her over the years, we fought for acceptance as female executives in hostile male working environments and always supported each other in all our endeavours. I care for her deeply. And do hope she sees the way of healing with her only child.
So few ask for advice. But empathy is always needed.