52 Ways to Shift Your Focus: Show Your Empathy

Shift #43: Show Your Empathy

Previous posts in this series have talked about pulling weeds (Shift #7), removing obstacles (Shift #10), cleaning out the house (Shift #13), and giving something up (Shift #40). There are bits of all those posts behind today’s shift in focus as I think about items to donate. I need look at what I can share or give away, and that requires empathy. It requires pulling things out of my pile of possessions that would do more good in someone else’s hands, shoving aside the obstacle of attachment, and remembering how lucky I am to have what I have. I can give up a few minutes of my time to collect things that someone else can use right now, instead of letting these things languish in my home.

Yes, this is all very nice, you may be thinking, and this is all very peacenik-happy-what-else-do-you-have-to-say. Fair enough. Here it is: if we don’t constantly hone our empathy, I believe our art and writing becomes more and more self-centered. It becomes closed in, less aware of the world, less inviting to someone else. Who really cares about what we have to say if we have no sense about how someone else feels?

I know my own tendency to zero in on what’s going on inside my own house, the need to keep things organized and orderly and smooth. And I know how grouchy I get when things get rattled. So, yesterday, after a bumpy morning with a kid who overslept and missed the bus, another kid whose own life is less organized than he’d like and thus needed my help, and a brewing snowstorm that was destined to throw everything off later, it was quite a good thing to receive a thonk on the head. The thonk arrived in the form of an email from my daughter’s high school reminding parents that there is a food shelf in need of items that go beyond food to baby items and backpacks and school supplies. They need stuff now, before spring break makes that food shelf inaccessible to part of the student population who uses it. The length of the list of needed items startled me. I was only vaguely aware of the food shelf’s existence and did not know that diapers and toiletries and laundry soap were part of the offerings.

And this is right under my nose. What kind of a person am I that I’ve been ignoring this need while grumping around about a few bumps in my writing schedule? And how much of that lack of empathy shows up in my work?

That school email wasn’t the only reminder I received. I also noticed a friend’s posting on Facebook for clothing donations for women coming out of abusive situations. There was another need, one in which I could so easily take part. Do I wear everything in my closet? No. So why am I hanging on to all of it? Just in case? Really?

So, today’s shift in focus will result in a very concrete action that clears some space here, helps someone there, and softens my voice just a little.

DO A KIND THING

If you are interested in donating to a food shelf, but have no idea where to start, there are food shelf directories online.

Here is one for Minnesota: http://www.hungersolutions.org/.

Here is a national food shelf directory, thanks to Feeding America: http://feedingamerica.org/foodbank-results.aspx.

If you are interested in cleaning out your closet (women), here is a link to Dress for Success: http://www.dressforsuccess.org/whatwedo.aspx.

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8 comments

  1. Nice piece. A couple years ago a friend of mine started a “give something away everyday” resolution. I don't know how long he made it, but I thought that was an interesting idea. After being away on sabbatical and living in a much simpler setting I realized how much “stuff” I have in my life. We started a household purge and donated a truck full of items, given away furniture and identified more to go as well. I can honestly say I haven't missed a one! Going through such a process does force you to revisit the reason for having and keeping what you have. KM

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  2. I should indeed start a 'things purge'. I use my empathy on an emotional level as a voluntary crisis telephone counsellor, but sometimes practical assistance is just as necessary. And sometimes more necessary. Thank you for the reminder.

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  3. I love how our high school reaches out to the broader community. I was up there today, dropping off things for the food shelf, and I asked about the “baby items” on their needs list. I wasn't sure what kind of baby items they needed. The people in the office told me that there are many who use the food shelf who have younger children at home, so they need everything from diapers and wipes to baby food and formula. Certainly educated me.

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