Saturday, November 14, 2015

Nous sommes tous Parisiens

(Jean Jullien / Twitter)
We have been injured by November 13th, but we can't let it defeat us.

This morning, I took a look at the calendar and made a joke about Friday the 13th. "I'll just blame any misfortune I face on bad luck." I had no idea.

As the work day came to a close, I found myself lurking on social media and there was no denying something had struck the world hard and fast. My Twitter feed was a flowing river of retweeted news articles, concerned hashtags, claims of astonishment. "#PrayforParis." "Nous sommes tous Parisiens."

It is not my nature to get involved in political arguments or breaking news crazes online, but in a moment like this it felt almost callous to "Keep Calm and Carry On" as the phrase goes. I wanted to help, even if it was in the smallest of ways. By sharing positive thoughts or retweeting helpful information, I was able to assist in what little way I could from my remote location away from the scene of the chaos. My drive to act was instinctual and unplanned. It was an automatic impulse driven by a mix of fear and concern for the many strangers living thousands of miles away whom I don't know and may never get to know. I felt what I believe to be the true meaning of love despite not being acquainted with a single victim.

In these moments of tragedy, we are able to find and share our best selves. We discover our capacity for empathy, our attachment to our loved ones, our desire to help others -- even strangers. We forget the petty trials of day-to-day life and remember what it means to be human.

We can't let all of that be forgotten next week when the headlines have changed.

In the coming days, weeks, months, and even years, it is our responsibility not to forget what happened in Paris. Not to ignore it, and not to return to life as it was before today.

There was a sentiment I heard expressed in an interview with a Parisian a few hours after the attacks were first reported. Yesterday we had freedom, he said. But tomorrow everything will be different.

Paris is forever changed, and humanity is also forever changed.

That isn't to say every moment moving forward should be lived in fear of a potential repeat incident. Or that we must spend the rest of our days in mourning. A life lived in fear and sadness is not much of a life at all.

All the tragedy that has transpired should serve as a reminder that life is fleeting. We are responsible for spending as much of our time on this planet as we can doing good, pursuing happiness, and loving with all our hearts.

Don't waste a minute. Don't live in vain. Don't let those who wish to scare you win their sick game by complying to their desires.

Feel powerful in these moments of brotherhood/sisterhood with your fellow man and woman. Use them to connect with others in whatever ways you can.

And above all, be the champion of this battle. Just because we've fallen doesn't mean we've lost. It's up to us to get back up again and be the bigger and better persons. We can choose to thrive not from revenge and anger, but from mercy and hope.

Tuesday, November 10, 2015

How not to fix a problem

Lately I've become a bit of a podcast nerd. Spending hours in the car driving to and from work, I find few things as entertaining and miraculously distracting as episodes of The Nerdist Podcast, Gilmore Guys, Lore, and many many other terrific programs.

Today, during my commute travails, I spent half an hour listening to the newest episode of Dear Hank and John, a somewhat inaccurately labeled "comedy podcast" from YouTube's very own VlogBrothers.

In the natural flow of their conversation and in answering a listener's question, John mentioned something that struck a chord with me which -- upon reflection -- I believe to be one of the most important aspects to maintaining healthy and loving relationships. So I thought I'd share it here on The Songs of Spring.

The question read:
"Dear Hank and John,  
There must be a better way to express empathy than saying 'I'm sorry.' Saying 'I'm sorry' places blame on the person expressing empathy and normally causes the person receiving empathy to reply with something along the lines of ‘It's not your fault’ or even worse misplacing negative feelings towards someone who is genuinely trying to voice compassion to their situation. I've taken to saying 'Yo bro, I know that feel,' but in some situations it seems improper. What do you guys think? Is there better vocabulary that can be used to express empathy?"
To which John began explaining the concept of "empathic listening," which he learned about while working as a student chaplain at a children's hospital.
"So an example of empathic listening might be that someone tells you that they’re feeling very sad and you say 'I'm hearing that you're feeling very sad right now'...Obviously, in a perfect world you want to phrase it a little more subtly than that so that it doesn't feel awkward in conversation. But it is, at least in my experience, astonishingly effective. Just to acknowledge what someone else is feeling and to acknowledge that you hear what they’re feeling is really powerful."
This brought the brothers into a discussion on the inherent problem of offering solutions to problems when a solution is not requested.
Hank: "And don't do the thing that I do which is, 'Well here's how you can fix your problem.'"
John: "No, do not go to problem-fixing. Because A) it does not work B) when it is time for problem-fixing, people will start to bring up solutions instead of bringing up problems. And also, in most cases of pain there is no easy solution. The job is not to find a solution, the job is to find less aloneness within it."
This is an issue I've observed hundreds of times in my own life and in the lives of those around me. I've been on both sides of the situation, and I feel I can see the reality with some clarity.

Often in our relationships we offer our shoulders to cry on, but only for so long. We patiently listen, but after a while we resort to trying to fix the perceived problem. It always seems like the right thing to do at the time. We're satisfying the most beautiful human desire: to help.

But the most beneficial choice we can make as confidantes is to offer ourselves with no strings attached, to listen compassionately and without agenda. The very act of offering a solution can seem in itself dismissive. We risk alienating those we love the most by not hearing them out, but instead talking over them with what we believe is wisdom.

This all comes down to the root of all positive relationships, which is understanding and respect. When we love someone, whether it be as a friend, a romantic partner, a family member, or what have you -- we owe it to them to treat them with patience and consider their needs before acting. Often, just having someone to listen to a problem is enough to make the problem go away — or at least make it easier to contend with.

It's such an easy choice we can make, to listen. It's really the simplest solution of all.

If you're interested in listening to the entire podcast episode I'm referencing, find it below. The question quoted above is read at 20:15.