What The World Needs Now Is Empathy, Sweet Empathy

Now that Romney has announced his VP choice, the Facebook posts have really started coming on strong. Whichever side they’re ‘for’, the posts seem to stem from the same place: a place called Anger. I think much of our politics (and policies) are housed here. And we know why.

An angry person is fueled by a burning energy that propels them into action, namely: to vote.

I think that this core starting point of Anger is the root of our problems in the States. We, as a community, are fueled by an emotion that is essentially destructive, prohibits change, fights logic, and resists compromise. Ever try to rationalize with a toddler having a tantrum? You can’t. That’s the problem. We’re a country of tantrum-throwing toddlers.

So. Okay. What if we DIDN’T try to rationalize anymore? What if we didn’t even try to ‘change the conversation’? What if, instead, everyone tried to change the starting point of the conversation?

What if politics were not based on FEAR but on EMPATHY.

Empathy is a skill that allows one person to sympathize with another, to imagine their life story for a moment and understand their choices. I call empathy a ‘skill’ and not an emotion. An emotion is something you feel in your gut. Empathy is a deeper understanding that is taught. This ability to imagine and connect with another’s experience can be explained, practiced, and encouraged to grow.

In my life, both writing and acting have enhanced my ability to empathize (one of the reasons I think it’s essential that we fund the arts. It makes us better people.). But why is empathy important?

Okay. Imagine instead of saying “Gays can’t marry because God says it’s wrong. Because of this, I hate gays”…What if a person instead could find a quiet place within themselves that resists judging and instead says “It must be hard to love someone so much that you want to marry them and you’re told you can’t. Love IS love, and it must hurt to be told it isn’t.”

Any debate can be reduced to a quiet center, a story whispered into hearts.

I’ve tried to do this with gun control. I can understand why people want to protect our right to ‘bear arms’.  When I go to my quiet center, I think “Okay. A right to bear arms is important and guaranteed by our Constitution. What is a compromise that honors this right, yet protects our people? Why can’t there be an over-the-counter gun, a gun that allows for hunting and is simple and can be licensed. One standard gun to honor the Constitution. Why can’t other guns be treated as prescription-only guns, that is, given to police officers and the military under special license only?”

I can imagine how desperate it must feel like to want to go to college and not be able to afford it. I can know that it must be hard for those who are wealthy to understand poverty, true poverty. I can feel how awful it must be to have to choose between buying insulin and paying a mortgage, when you are so sick you can’t work and your insurance is maxed out. I, myself, am a very hard worker, but I have no insurance. Not for lack of trying or wanting, but because my part-time work (though I work two jobs) won’t cover me. I can imagine being someone other than me.

If our politicians could practice real acts of empathy instead of playing to Anger and spouting attack ads and angry memes, maybe we could all feel a little more inspired to take care of each other, to build a community of support, instead of a nation of angry individuals.

We can start with ourselves. Before you post that Facebook picture, or send that forwarded email, ask yourself  "Does this come from a place of anger? Have I tried to consider how others feel about this issue? Am I responding from a place of kindness?"

I’m teaching my kids how to empathize. It begins with this: “Imagine how you would feel if…” and it grows from there.

Insomnia Causes Epiphanies. Big Ones.

It’s no surprise that I’ve been having (what I lovingly refer to as) an existential writer crisis for about, oh, a year. Well, I think it’s hit its precipice. At least I hope it has. It’s 12:57 AM and I can’t sleep. All I can think is ‘It’s time to do my work’. A rather annoying thought to have when what I’d really like to be doing is sleeping. I know what my brain is telling me. It’s telling me to quit whining, grow up, and write what I should be writing. (I keep thinking of the end scene in Uncle Vanya.)

These last two years on my own with the kids have been pretty chaotic. I’m constantly busy with teaching and narrating and then writing and more recently endlessly promoting my three small books that are out there. You can do a lot of things at one time, I’ve discovered, but you can’t do a lot of things well. I’ve given my all to my kids, my students, my audiobooks, and what little is left over, I give to my own work. There isn't a lot left over, actually. There's hardly anything left over.

Here’s where things get touchy.

I have a huge chip on my shoulder about why my work isn’t catching on, and why I can’t get an agent, and why I can’t get that elusive big New York publisher. Originally, I just thought the world was against me. Now I realize it’s actually more personal than that. My work isn’t good enough. I’m not saying this for pity; I’m saying it because it’s true.

I’ve thrown a tantrum over a colleague of mine and the accolades that he’s rightly receiving. I’ve thrown a tantrum because my alma mater GVSU said they wouldn’t let me do a reading there because the type of stuff I write (romantic comedy) isn’t supported by their department. I’ve thrown a tantrum as I’ve watched other writer friends get agents, book deals, readings at Schuler’s, etc. I threw a tantrum this week when the two agents looking at my new manuscript passed on it, even though they said I’m a good writer with a keen imagination. And I nearly threw a tantrum last night when I googled my college boyfriend, and discovered that he was on The Daily Show in January talking about his critically heralded second book on Detroit and the auto industry. The man is called a genius, and the truth is, he is.

What do any of these tantrums really accomplish? Why am I being such a baby?

Here’s the truth. I have a smidgen of talent and I’ve always floated by on that. I’ve never really tried at anything. Good grades came easy in school. I was a mostly A student. The same in college. Papers came easy, and later so did stories. Now if I’m being really honest, I’ll take it a step further.

Writing is a joy to me. An escape. So I don’t like to work on it. Work is, well, work. My three books out…they’re pretty much 1st drafts. Sure, I fix the typos and I add things here and there, but you’re pretty much reading the 1st draft. Why? Because I’m sort of just floating by.

So while I throw tantrums all over the place about the ‘world not recognizing me’…what kind of effort and work have I put into making them listen? Are my books the best work I’m capable of? No. They’re not. They’re just parlor tricks.

What would happen if I really took some time and energy and put it into a novel? What would happen if I stopped complaining, stopped looking at everyone around me and what they have, and just focused on my work? On those novels that I want to write? On the novels I need to write, but haven't had the energy for? What would happen?

I’m hoping for magic.

This is what I’m going to do. I’m finally at a place in my life where I feel loved and supported and safe. It has taken all my life to get to this point. (My childhood is the stuff of pained memoirs.) I have great kids and a wonderful fiancé and a wedding to plan. I don’t have to fight anymore to be who I am, or struggle emotionally or financially. Things are in place.

So now it’s time to shut up and do my work. I’m returning to a literary novel that I started a decade ago and didn’t want to put the time and energy into it because it was too hard. And I’m also going to rewrite “Tunnel Vision” and see if I can add depth and texture to it. If no one bites on “Foodies Rush In”, I’ll self-publish it and I’ll move on.

I’m tired of my own tantrums. It’s time to get serious about this.

It starts now…

Or, okay, it starts after I get some sleep.

Don't worry. I won't lose my sense of humor in my work, but I'm going to widen the scope a little. There are characters still waiting in Rusty's Bar and Grill, and a fortune teller has moved in above the restaurant. This is what I'm going to work on. Everything else around me is just noise.