The Empathy Tightrope

Is Self-Empathy a Thing?

COVID is testing ALL our empathy muscles

A couple of weeks ago I had a good catch-up Zoom with my friend Yolonda Spinks. She lies in Memphis, and of course a chunk of our call was about COVID. We talked about vaccine hesitancy, and while we both wish more people realized the most hesitant demographic is White evangelical Christians (tied to their Trump support), there is real hesitancy worth talking about in the Black community, especially amongst younger people. But Yolo stated something so clearly that I had only been roughly starting to form in my head: When the media focuses on Black vax hesitancy (which they do disproportionately, IMO) inevitably you start to hear about Tuskeegee or maybe the deeper cut of Dr. J. Marion Sims (both rational things to feel deep distrust about, I urge you to click on the links). But Yolo’s point was that you don’t need to go back decades to find reasons why the Black community might distrust the healthcare system, and particularly the equation of government+healthcare system. Maybe (no, definitely) it feels more comfortable for White people to believe it’s all about some distant past they had nothing to do with, but listen: Black women have higher maternal mortality (by a lot) today. And by the way: Where was everyone caring about Black people and their health when it comes to heart disease and diabetes and food deserts and lack of coverage right now? Nowhere. It may be a self-inflected wound to avoid getting the free vaccine, but the hesitancy is real, it’s rational, and it’s based on right now, not 100 years ago. I certainly feel empathy for this position. I understand it both intellectually and emotionally. I’ve cut off my nose to spite my face more than a few times in life. Sometimes even being aware that’s what I’m doing when I do it.

On the other hand, empathy doesn’t mean we can’t have other feelings too, and it doesn’t mean that we can’t prioritize empathy for ourselves or not remove ourselves from bad situations, online and off. My friend, the Empathy Expert Maria Ross, recently posted an IG story (so fair warning the link may expire) about trying to present an opposing view to a mom she followed online who expressed anti-vax sentiment. She hoped to be helpful (my guiding principle) by sharing some facts, but she also shared her own lived experience and observations, including seeing a young nephew catch COVID, which is always a recommended approach to humanize and personalize your argument…to speak about what you are FOR, not about what you’re against about the other person. To no avail. She was lambasted and attacked. And it wasn’t just about what she could have done better. It was about whether it was OK to say, “that’s enough empathy for one day, I’m outta here.” I come down heavily on the side of YES. Trying to approach conversations empathetically doesn’t mean you exercise no empathy for yourself and your own boundaries. It doesn’t mean you allow people to buffet you with their unempathetic behavior.

There are an increasing number of stories about how the vaccinated in the U.S. are starting to really chafe at the restrictions they feel were earned by the recalcitrant unvaccinated, not them. One of the best discussions of this I have observed is in this NPR Up First podcast episode, featuring national security expert Juliet Kayyem. She talks about how we spend so much time understanding and finding empathy for and listening to the unvaccinated, in an effort to get them over the line to getting vaccinated. But where are the voices of the vaccinated, she asks? Where is the empathy for them? (And God, doesn’t that trigger how many time we had to watch mainstream media fall all over themselves to talk to White Trump supporters win or lose, but never to Hillary supporters or Biden supporters?) I felt every word Kayyem said, I’ll just say that.

It’s a tightrope, requiring all our balancing efforts, and I don’t know about you, but I don’t feel like the last 18 months has left me a lot of the focus and core strength needed to balance.

Are you dealing with this? And, may I ask, HOW?????

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Last week-ish

In addition to telling the story of how today’s healthcare system betrayals of the Black community are driving as much (if not more) vaccine hesitancy as long ago betrayals, this week’s episode of The Op-Ed Page features an interview with comedian, writer, podcaster, and entrepreneur, Lynn Harris of GOLD Comedy. Besides learning about her company, and how it helps women and non-binary folks develop and fine-tune their comic chops, Lynn and I discuss the evolution of comedy. Why the future of comedy is not racist, rape-y, homophobic material, and yet why there’s no need to cry for the racist, rape-y, homophobic comedians out there and the myth of their “cancellation.”. It’s a good talk.

Listen now

Also, last week, I published another Kinder Beauty Blog post, this time The 5 Truths About Aging I Wish I Knew In My 30s. Sure some of these are about taking care of yourself physically, but more of my truths are about things you learn about people and relationships (including with yourself). Check it out.

Coming this Week-ish

I recorded some videos last week for an Instagram takeover of my speakers bureau, Peace is Loud and its IG account. Peace Is Loud is part of Abigail Disney’s organization, and if you follow her, you know she is badass. They have been featuring their speakers in IG takeovers all month long (and I guess this makes me part of the finale?). Follow them on Insta, and I’ll of course share as well.

Also, coming this week: I’m going to spend my first nights outside my own house in 18 months. I’m going to a small-ish event in Monterey. Driving, so no airports/airplanes for me. Everyone attending must be vaccinated. Everyone must test twice on site (and because I’m driving, I’m going to test before I leave, and spare myself the trip if the worst happens, and I test positive. (BTW, did you know there is an at-home 15-minute test kit you can buy for just $24 for two tests???? It’s true.) Most of the event is outdoors. Masks required when indoors. And still, given Delta, it doesn’t feel risk-free. I just keep being amazed how much the vision of a #hotvaxsummer was destroyed by ignorant, destructive people who continue to not feel bad as the daily cases and deaths climb and climb and climb. Ack, I don’t want to get started again, so I’ll leave it there. Wish me luck.

To end on a positive note, I am theeeesclose to announcing two cool projects I’ve been tapped to work on. I was hoping to be able to put them both in this newsletter, but no such luck. Next one for sure. And you can follow my socials to hear about them the moment I can. (Twitter, Instagram, Facebook, LinkedIn)

Please leave a comment and let me know your thoughts on all of the above. This is basically my blog now! And as always I appreciate a share of this newsletter or my podcast

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And if I can help you break through the things that are keeping you stuck, set up your first introductory 30-minute consult for free by booking it in my Calendly

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