Friday, July 9, 2010

Emphatic Empathy

I mentioned the other day about a trip to the grocery store to buy supplies for a retreat weekend turning into something that wasn't as much fun as it could have been. And to be honest the outing was bothering me more than perhaps something so small ever should. There were three of us responsible for planning, purchasing and providing everyone with breakfast one of the days and some additional snacks. There was a set amount we were to aim to spend and this is basically our "fee" for attending the weekend. We set a date and time and met at the grocery store. One of the women I know rather well and have been volunteering with for some time and would consider her a good friend outside of the organization. The other woman, I've only just met briefly. So basically what happened was that the woman that I've only just met sort of took over the show, made all of the decisions about what we'd buy and was a little dare I say it, aggressive about the whole thing. At first I was fine with it because I'm usually pretty go-with-the-flow with these types of things. I'm not a picky eater and if someone has preferences and ideas I have no problem with going with them. So for awhile I just went with it. But then I made a couple of suggestions that were rather, I felt, aggressively shut down. And then this person continued to make decisions and it didn't appear to me that as I would normally expect in that type of situation that she really cared to know our opinions on the matter. And I know that we are seriously talking about decisions on what food to buy. I know that that is silly. I know that. But when we started out we were three abroad and very quickly it started to feel like tagging along behind and I began to feel like a little kid asking Mom for stuff at the grocery store. And I felt, sort of, degraded to be honest. And then I shut down and decided that I was just going to wait for it to be all over. But I couldn't keep all of these negative thoughts from flooding in and I was just seriously annoyed with this person, how she was treating the situation, the decisions she was making, the things she was doing (and buying!). And I have to say, I probably didn't handle the situation very well. In the end, I was so annoyed and so put-off that it was probably obvious that I was displeased. I ended up carting away all of the (over budget) groceries to my car and home to my fridge/freezer (none of which I had picked and I have no idea when I was elected the designated bring the groceries home person). So, I'll say it. I was sort of pissed. And when you get into that frame of mind things just start to go wrong; it's the way of the world. And so as I let my poisonous attitude seep out into the universe, it made things worse and I couldn't get over how I was feeling. And a couple days later when I would look at the groceries in my fridge waiting to head out for the weekend, those same feelings would come flooding back. And as much as I know I should have just gotten over it, not a big deal and all that. And as much as Dave told me that it's not a big deal and I shouldn't dwell on it, and he's right, I couldn't help it. At the time, I thought the best way to go about the situation was to just let this person do what she wanted and move on in life. And maybe I was right. But the problem was that the whole event had me so irritated that even though I tried to do that, it's still bothering me to the point where my opinion of this person is ending up sort of tainted. And I know that's ridiculous, I do. But my brain appears to have a mind of its own and doesn't care. And in retrospect maybe the right thing to do for me was to make some demands of my own, which would make me feel a little more "heard" and as though I contributed and would potentially make the person a little more self-aware as to how she was treating the situation and her co-shoppers.

And I know that the whole situation seems ridiculous. But when someone else gets upset about something, even if I think it's ridiculous I at least try to see where they are coming from and act accordingly. And I also try to grant myself that same luxury. I'm not really sure why it bothered me as much as it did. But it did. It pissed me off and made me feel small and if that's how I feel, then I'm allowed to feel that way. And all that. But I also try to think about where the person was coming from and why they acted the way they did. In the movie, Mona Lisa Smile (which I don't really remember besides the scene I'm about to describe) there is a scene where Kirsten Dunst's character is screaming all of these horrible things at Maggie Gyllenhaal's character and instead of reacting with anger, or screaming back or whatever she basically opens her arms and lets Kirsten Dunst's screaming hateful character fall into them and she cries, etc. etc. (or at least that's how I remember it). ANYWAY, while I KNOW that these two situations are completely different and one of them is a MOVIE and not even REAL, that scene stuck with me. It stuck with me because I found it to be a really nice example of having empathy for another person. And realizing that when someone is treating you not-so-nicely it often has very little (if anything) to do with you. And being able to respond with love and empathy is a really difficult but amazing thing to do. So that brings me back around to my not-at-all like a movie situation in which I get really angry over a grocery shopping trip with a near stranger. The really immature and negative side of me was deciding that I didn't like this person and that I was just going to avoid spending time with her over the weekend, yadda yadda. But the mature, caring, compassionate, empathetic, Maggie Gyllenhaal side of me is going to realize that she is a mother and is probably used to making all of the food decisions for her family and careening young ones through the supermarket at top speed while she decides what she's going to cook for meals for the next day between dropping one off at soccer practice, picking one up from ballet and signing a report card with the opposite hand. And who knows, maybe we'll be friends.

Or something like that....


Bryan Raydio said...

get over it. and in the future avoid shopping for food with people. never turns out well.

Natty said...

Never again!!