Masks Off: Models of Empathy and Authenticity

I've struggled at times in my life like so many of us. I shared one of my biggest times of struggle in my life on Instagram yesterday. For a lot of it, though, I've led what would be considered a 'charmed' life by many on this planet. 

My friend Clarence messaged me about a run in with a police officer the day before yesterday. While I've known struggles, I will never know what it is to be biking down the street and be hassled because of the color my skin. For my sex, yes, but I will never know what it is to face that struggle probably most of days of my life. 

I walk outside my condo in the city and am faced with homeless people every day. I have never known what it is to truly struggle to have a roof over my head or food on my plate. 

I had the opportunity to attend college, on the Hope Scholarship here in Georgia, no less. I will never know what it feels like to want to have that opportunity to learn and not be able to partake in it like my mom. Many of her dreams will never be met because of means at the time or her decision of having me. 

I have never known what it is to be physically abused. Verbally yes, but I have never had to face the ferocity of someone else's fists or weapons and to feel the total lack of ability to take back my own physical body and mind. 

But I have the ability to empathize with all these situations. 

I shared my a bit of my life, one struggle, as I said to start to peel away layers of the mask. I did not share for pity or sorry's. I've played with victim mentality for a large majority of my life and frankly it doesn't work for me anymore. I'm unwilling to give my power over that freely anymore. I shared as a reminder to me of my strength. I shared as hopefully a gateway for others to feel safe to share as well. 

I am a yogi, you'll label upon me whatever that means to you. I am a gun owner, again, you'll label upon me whatever that means to you. I was raised my entire life in a home with guns (not the hunting kind). 

Growing up, I was raised as a latchkey kid. Both of my parents worked very hard to provide me with a good material life. We weren't very verbally, emotionally, or physically expressive, or at least my father and I weren't. I was an only child, severely shy and looking back now and knowing the terms, blessed with social anxiety. I had an extreme lack of self worth and self confidence. I was ho-hum normal probably to most, but for me I felt like a total ice queen. I lacked trust in anybody, including my parents. Hell, I didn't trust myself. I don't honestly know if I loved anyone back then. I sure didn't love myself.  I cared for my mom, my friends, my pets, but like, step-up love, I don't think so.

As I got older, found yoga, began practicing self-reflection and did more research, I really began to view myself as a psychopath. Looking at some of the traits, well, they nailed me. 

  • Uncaring, lack of empathy. Yes. I didn't care for myself, how could I do that for another. 
  • Shallow depth of emotions. Yes. I wouldn't allow anyone in to see them and wouldn't express.  
  • Blame externalization. Yes. I was a master of victim mentality. 
  • Selfishness. Yes. An only, spoiled child. My god, yes. 
  • Passive avoidance. Yes. Could run or avoid confrontation at all costs. 
  • Insincere speech. Yes. Measured speech to satisfy others and tall imagination of lies. 

I began to think I was doomed or was just going to have to continue "acting" like everyone else, but on the inside knowing I wasn't the same. 

As I got older and more into yoga, the practice and teachers I choose along the way forced openness, honesty, communication, compassion, community, vulnerability amongst other things. Situations, like the events surrounding my father's death, did the same. As all this began to happen and I did even more work into self-study, I realized I wasn't a psychopath, but that I have never been given strong models of empathy, compassion and connection through modeling, storytelling, communication and time filled relationships. As I began to reclaim a connection with my physical, mental and emotional bodies, I began to redefine a love relationship with myself and through that squelched any notions that I was that bullet list above. I began to trust others and value them as unique individuals. 

I don't have children and I don't have the answers, but I do have my own thoughts on where we are going as a society, especially as we hear more and more reports on large scale and small scale violence. A lot of it stems not from guns, because it really is not the gun jumping into someone's hand creating violence, it is the where the mind of the person is residing that holds the gun. We can take them away, to me, it's no matter, because another weapon will just be found. 

How often do we answer a text, answer a call, or check our phone while driving? We are in a moving weapon. We are putting our text message or social media post above the well-being of the humans on the road around us. We have literally reached a point of apathy that we care so little for the welfare of the people all around us that we are willing to risk their lives for our own ego. And if we have friends or kids in the backseat, well, what behavior do we think we are modeling then? The importance and value of others' lives? No. 

How about when we treat cashier's, baristas, waitresses, etc as if they are nothing more than human-like robots because we cannot put our screens away? Again, what behavior are we modeling to one another about the value of another human. One of high regard? No. 

And that's just the people we don't know. How deep do we think that behavior cuts when we do the same damn thing to our friends and families, the ones we are supposed to care the most about? When we occupy our time with tv shows, video games (many violent), social media, etc and we don't model the value of quality time with each other. What happens to us as a society when we stop modeling connection with one another? Or kindness. Or compassion. 

How about the lack of physical activity in school, after school and after work? What happens in our brain when we stop having a deep connection with our physical body? When it just becomes a shell. What impact does that have on our brain-body connection. If we've become a hull of person, again, do we think we can see value or worth in another human being? How highly do we regard their life? 

I don't see how we cannot connect the dots of us moving further and further into an existence of dis-reality and disconnection, which I believe feed many mental health issues, to increased levels of violence, apathy and increased feelings of alone-ness. 

I can only imagine if when I was feeling like a "psychopath" I had been triggered by violence, by bullying or by the other ways kids and adults are attacked today, both in real life and on-line, how easily things could go differently. And those bullet points up above, guess what, they are observable in large amounts of the population on a daily basis. In small ways and in big ways. 

So, for me, it may be guns or some other weapon. A car. A bomb. A knife. A fire. The list goes on and on. The weapons are arbitrary. It's the underlying issues that we need to be in an uproar about. It's the society we are building that is becoming more and more isolated in human connection. It's the way we adults treat, view, empathize, and connect with another that models to everyone else, including children, truly how important another human living being is. It's creating environments where we feel safe to share without shame. It's creating spaces where people feel heard and understood. It's not one large moment that creates these catastrophes, it's all the small ones that add up along the way. If we each feel important and valuable as we are, then maybe, just maybe, we take a second thought when it comes to thinking another human being's life is so worthless that we can take it. 

I return to the stories at the beginning. If we lose our ability to empathize, to put ourselves in the shoes of another. If we lose our ability to be authentic, to project what is real and not falsities. If we lose our ability to remove the masks. If we lose all this, we lose our ability to relate and connect and then it really does become a big planet full of, well, fuck it all. 

This is a hot topic and I'm sure everyone has an opinion. I'd love any feedback you'd like to give me. If you're lacking connection or feeling really alone right now and need someone to reach out to, please email me.