Communicating effectively with those around you requires empathy and sympathy. Does this mean that you, as an effective communicator, must be a touchy-feely person or ascribe to new age values? Not at all (unless you want to, of course!). Rather, empathy and sympathy can be learned. But before you can be empathic and sympathetic, you need to know yourself. Self knowledge is like a muscle – with practice it gets stronger, leaner and more toned. It is your mind’s reality-muscle.
What is it that troubles most people in the world today? Surprisingly, it isn’t really a lack of material things, beyond a certain point.
We all want to have a comfortable life. We seek the little things that make us feel safe and that are familiar to us. For some, this means the enjoying a short daily ritual around a cup of coffee, listening to it brew, smelling its tell-tale aroma, watching the steam rise from your cup in a beam of clear morning sunlight, the stillness of the morning around you. For others it is walking through a park that brings back a cherished memory of a happy moment. Perhaps it was a moment of companionship with friends, a soccer or frisbee game. For others it could be a look through a picture album that brings back memories of times when we felt loved, included, valued and secure.
We live in such a lonely world. It is a world of fantasies played on glowing screens that draw our eyes with flickering images of possibility. The visions of freedom offered by the screens that surround us are in contradiction with our structured and super-busy lives. Our days our structured and boxed. Even our socialising is becoming conventionalised – we date through sites which are a sort of catalogue of features and benefits which are display, a performance, a branding exercise and then a purchase that culminates in communication between the dater profiles… not between the people! Another place we socialise is at night clubs where we put up with obnoxious, aggressive behaviour and displays of machismo or hyper-sexualised femininity. Vulgarity and loneliness. Everyone in the club is alone, separated by the invisible wall of the throbbing music and the gender display they are seeing around them, and putting on themselves. The night club is really just people living out the experience of the dating site. Social media reality has switched with physical reality. The people aren’t attracting one another, it’s their profiles… the performance of themselves that is attracted to another person’s performance of himself/herself. It’s very lonely and thin.
While performing stereotypical self-images and behaviours may seem to be the pop culture ideal – many people find trying to conform to stereotypes dehumanising and exhausting. So we seek respite. We seek a more human connection – we go to the neighbourhood pub and seek a real conversation. We try to make real friends. But even there, we are often mislead – it doesn’t feel real. People are never what they seem. They continually let us down or manipulate us. We go home and don’t feel like we have really connected with others. We feel that the connection was superficial.
People seek to get a hold of reality to make sense of this confusing storm of representations, images and information.
We wander through our lives, dazed and confused, convinced that somehow, an understanding of the world, its order and some personal comfort is just around the corner. It never seems to arrive. What is going on? Why do we feel like we’re floating? Because deep-down, we know that none of it feels real.
Reality is something that we build in our minds. We build it through our experiences, our principles, our understandings of the world. We seek opinions of trusted people and then we use those opinions as anchor points. We adopt principles and then we try to understand them and apply them in our lives. So what has gone wrong?
A big part of the problem is that learning is really hard. Learning takes a lot of context and background and repetition and trial and error to get something right. Just think about when you tried to learn a new language or how ot play a musical instrument. It seems overwhelmingly complicated. It’s daunting. It take a long time and a lot of practice. We often give up or only get marginally better at it after tons of practice.
The good life takes practice. It takes reflection on what you are doing every day. At the end of each day, you can take 10 minutes, breathe deeply, clear your mind and then go through his day, going over what you did. Think about the meaning of your actions. You can ask yourself three questions:
- Did they fit into to what you wanted to accomplish?
- Were your actions good actions?
- How did your actions impact the lives of others?
A good communicator needs to be honest with herself or himself. If you want to live a real life – a good life – you need to know what is real. But it is hard to discern what is real around you without knowing the truth about yourself.
Know yourself and you’ll know the world. You’ll start to have a grasp of reality and the floating and swirling images and information around you will start to take shape. Reality will look crisp when viewed through the lens of your mastery of self. The unreal will start to look faded, yellowed and two-dimensional. Reality will pop out at you. You’ll feel more alive than ever before.
The nice thing is that once you have a grasp of what is real in your perception, you’ll start to be able to see what’s real for others. Instinct will tell them that you empathise with them. That you are listening to them. Then they will pay attention to you. They will trust rust you. Reality is contagious.
It won’t feel superficial or confusing anymore.