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“It’s all ours” [Friday Flow #4]
Empathy, writing, gratitude, houses
Hey, welcome to this week's Friday Flow!
It's been an interesting week: Edinburgh is opening up again, with cafes and pubs and restaurants starting to accept patrons and sit-in eating, and at church we're trying to work out what meeting together physically again will look like in light of the new guidelines.
2020 has been an intense year, and I wonder how we will talk about it in 5, 10, 20 years from now. What will the movies focus on? ('Cause you know there's going to be movies!) What will we tell the kids who didn't get to experience it? Do you ever wonder?
In this week's newsletter, I'm sharing about:
🤝The empathy superpower
✍🏾 Building the write habit
🤩 Recieving gratitude with grace
🏠 Nigerian proverb
🤝 The empathy superpower
My essay this week was about empathy, and both writing about that and the actual writing itself were a delight. (More on the latter in a bit.)
The key thing I argue in this essay (my second on empathy) is that the key to empathy is our own experience. And I’m not talking about using our experience to overshadow that of others, but using it as a doorway into theirs. I even made up a way to think about it that (if you’re into that sort of thing):
LIP-Sync before you (maybe) Share
👄 Share (maybe!!!)
Here's an excerpt from the essay:
Empathy is the sense of connection we have with another person that is triggered by their experience, and then understood by us using our own experience as a starting point to understand what their experience might feel like.
It’s entering into another person’s story as someone genuinely interested in it.
That’s where it’s different from sympathy, which is rooted in the Greek words for “with feeling”. Empathy, on the other hand, comes from the words for “in feeling”. One is just about feeling something with someone, the other is about entering into the experience of that feeling with them. Entering into another person’s experience through the doorway of our own.
Not staying in our own and shouting over at them, but going through ours into theirs.
You can read the entire thing—including an explanation of using LIP-Sync to empathise—here.
(And if you’ve received this email via forwarding, you can sign up to get it yourself using the button below.)
✍🏾 Building the write habit
The writing was fun because I banged out the entire first draft on the train home, after realising another essay I'd been working on the past five days wasn't coming together. And I couldn't find it in me to let the week pass without an essay, now I've built up the habit. I was even okay with it being super short, but as I wrote it I realised I had a few more things to say about it than I had realised.
It's a trick I'm learning to use more and more: starting is the hardest thing, but once you do you'll be surprised how far you get.
Take this issue of empathy: this is my third essay on the subject, and I've had a few more thoughts I'd like to explore since writing it, so there's at least one more coming, for sure. But I didn't plan it to as a series. I just wrote one. And then wrote another. And another.
It was while writing this last one I realised, Oh wait, this is a recurring subject. That's when I asked myself why that was, and I realised I write about empathy because it’s a big deal to me personally and professionally. I explain that in the essay. The best way to build a habit—and really, anything—is to just start.
The initial inertia is always your first enemy.
Here's the entire series so far:
Empathy is an act of imagination (July 2020)
A question of empathy published (June 2020)
🤝 Receiving gratitude with grace
A fellow Write of Passage alum shared this, and it blew me away.
(If you can’t see that, it reads: Someone I follow on Twitter shared this, and it really blew me away. In Brazil, a common response to “thank you” (obrigado/a) is: é todo nosso. Translation: “it’s all ours.” This makes me feel warm and fuzzy inside.)
That's an amazing response to gratitude: it's all ours.
To appreciate the power of that, consider the usual responses in English to “Thank you.” We say things like: No problem, It's fine, My pleasure, Anytime. In the language of my people, Yoruba, we say Kò tọ́pẹ́, which translates in English to, “It's not worthy of thanks”—the equivalent in English is, “It's nothing.” (I'd like to know what other ways you say thanks and in any other languages you know!)
Notice the thing about every single one of those responses?
They focus on reassuring the person giving thanks that it's no trouble (another way we respond) to you to do whatever it was they are thanking you for. But it makes it kind of about us, which might contribute to we feel uncomfortable accepting thanks.
This flips it.
“It's all ours” shifts the focus from the giver to the relationship between giver and receiver. It's not about me. It's not even about you. It's about us. And (it seems to me) it extends beyond us, to all of us: to the larger community we are a part of. And what I do for you, what you do for me, is what it means to be in community together.
This is why I love languages: other languages help you see other ways to see the world, to be in the world, to share with others this amazing experience of being human. Empathy is about recognising the shared humanity of others —and this response uses moments of gratitude to reinforce that. Love to see it.
It's all ours.
🤩 High praise
This was one of the most delightful things I heard this week:
(If you can’t see that, it says: Been receiving his newsletters a little over a year now and there's never been a miss.)
That’s such a heartwarming thing to say, and it makes me feel warm and fuzzy.
I deeply appreciate every time you have read one of these emails, forwarded one, left a comment, sent an encouraging message, shared on your social media. And I’m glad for every time one of them has said been helpful to you in any way, or just added a little more delight to your day.
Thank you for reminding me that it’s all ours.
🏠 Nigerian proverb
Another straightforward proverb today, but it’s in line with the theme:
One person cannot build a house.
Hope you have a truly delightful weekend.
Talk to you soon.
Yours in being human,