Pre to Post-Navaratri 2018 Reflection: Empathy, Limits, and Prayer for Others (Part II – Cultivating Empathy)

Comment: Image is courtesy of Pixabay via

Navaratri is at its end, and I am grateful I have been able to read through the Chandi and keep up with my nine day vegetarian fast I chose to undergo. I feel over all this Navaratri had been one of my best ones to date, even if the tail end of it had led to some difficulties. Difficulties of which I have reflected on considerably.

So months ago, almost half a year ago at this point, I had given up a friendship with someone. It seems this person had not let go of this, and tried to publicly engage me on my new social media account with a personal attack. As to why I had cut ties with this person to start, I rather not go too deep into the matter, and not because I am without fault in it (I am willing to admit I am not perfect). What I will say is that I saw this person become someone very toxic, and no matter what people tell them or do, the said person concludes what happens is support for their fantasy of being wrongly persecuted. This happened to come up in an online community I moderated and I was seen as part of the fantasized lynch mob for not siding with them. While there certainly was more to these events, I do no favors to elaborate on them, even and especially for the person of interest.

I am not going to give names, so I would ask for no one to request them. The people who were involved in the story know, and I am not interested in playing this person’s game by confirming their persecution fantasy. It will only ever come up if they bring it up, and that had been my stance on this matter. Even with the distress caused by attempts at shaming me over this ordeal even in the present, I only wish them well. Both of us benefit well from therapy, and I have taken my advice on at least this part. In kind, I also do not blame or fault the said person for holding anger at me over what I did with the friendship, even with our differing views on the events that led to our end of it. My own part has been hurtful, as friendship is something to really be valued in a world that can be cruel and full of betrayals. I have given reason to believe I have betrayed. These feelings are validated, regardless of our perspectives.

This leads to the theme of this blog post: empathy. In one of my previous blog posts, I mused on boundaries, which still apply to this post in the same manner empathy also applied to that post. Now I will reflect on experiences and lessons on empathy, and our need (including mine) to cultivate it.

I recently had a conversation with a friend of mine that went heated quickly. After sharing my experiences with online harassment (and not just someone being socially awkward), I heard him make a comment about people needing a thick skin. It was taken very negatively by me, and I explained that while a few years ago people could just “log off,” I reflected how much more reliable as a society we had become on social media. There was a long diatribe to follow, which came across to me as putting the issue under the rug. My patience was already low at this point.

So from that, based on the assumptions I had, I made a rather reactive response; not thoughtful at all. I commented on the person’s background in a snarky way as why they might turn the other way. The said person expressed hurt and talked about how they had been bullied before, and they were not saying people needed to let it continue happening (though I assumed this was the case). I expressed my apologies and how I saw how my words were hurtful, and what I could do better. Our discussion in the end became good and constructive.

Empathy is important because even if you may not “know” exactly what the other person goes through or had went through, it means you can consider what ways you do understand their perspective. Importantly, empathy means listening to opposition, even if you disagree with them. It is something I have been trying to cultivate in my regular practice, and it has helped me make some opposition on an issue into an ally, or at least not against me on a matter. Sometimes, it does not work when building rapport, especially if a person is already set in their ways. Still, it can reach out to many others.

Even as I talk about empathy, something I have at times even sounded “righteous” in speaking about, I know I am not perfect. If nothing else, the fact I have some people who may not like me is testament to the fact I am far from perfect. Assumptions have been made from my actions. I have made my mistakes, and even when it is hurtful to remember them, it is important to have such reminders once in a while. While there is certainly value in letting things go, to leave what cannot be undone in the past, we must also reflect on how we can do better in the future. A Jewish adage I learned recently states the following: “To redeem one self, one has to be put in the same situation again and react differently” (need to confirm source). I try to do this when I realize I have committed a wrong. Sometimes, I only act a little better. Thus, the need for me to cultivate empathy. It can be difficult to live in this world, especially with our climate becoming toxic globally (in more ways than one).

When I say empathy, I do not speak of completely excusing someone of what I consider extremely harmful actions. I believe there is a way to show empathy, compassion, and even believe in forgiveness and redemption while holding someone accountable. A few of my peers may not agree with this, and it has led to me having contentious relations with others. Some may have even more Draconian views. I may once more have to see the error in my ways, and the need to do better again. Even in my most righteous moments, I never have claimed I am above my own foibles.


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