Because we don’t want to be hypocritical, we may cling to an idea we expressed in the heat of a certain emotion. This is unreasonable, but it’s scary to admit to being inconsistent.
Sometimes, we don’t have an opinion about something. There are conflicting emotions, and there is not enough information. But we don’t want to show our indescisiveness. This is illogical, but it’s scary to admit to being inconsistent.
Sometimes, we have an idea, but we are worried that others will wrongly perceive it as being stupid, so we don’t say it. This is illogical, but it’s scary to admit to being inconsistent.
The truth is, we are inconsistent. Our mindsets and opinions are mainly formed by passing emotions over logic – and we don’t like to question our mindsets and opinions. This makes us too rigid.
People have different emotions at different times in their lives, so they form different mindsets and opinions to each other. This creates individuality. But it also creates disagreements between individuals. These disagreements turn into conflict when new emotions arise without logic to pacify them.
How can we limit conflict? One way is to accept inconsistency as a fact of life. You have to accept your own inconsistency, and you have to accept the inconsistency of others. Accepting your own inconsistency is coming to terms with the fact that your views have been heavily shaped by emotions, and not as heavily shaped by logic. So your opinions are not necessarily the objective truth. Accepting the inconsistency of others is coming to terms with the fact that they are not always being stupid for having views that differ from your own. You are both capable of being victims to your respective emotions.
When you have accepted your own inconsistency, you can work towards changing it. How? You can question your thoughts to make sure that your views are formed using both emotion AND logic. If you constantly question your thoughts, you become more reasonable. Your emotions stop ruling your decisions; they instead only contribute to them. You must learn to be compassionately critical to yourself. Then, when disagreements with other people threaten to become conflicts, you will be able to reason with yourself and with them.
When you have accepted the inconsistency of others, you can learn to cut them slack for having the opinions they have. You will become more patient. Of course, you will still get angry. You will still get frustrated. It is okay to express it. The difficult thing about conflict is is guessing how to do so without the situation escalating. You have to do your opinions and emotions justice without unnecessarily hurting the other person. You have to strike a balance. This is the trickiest thing to do. Most of us fail. But it is possible.
The problem arises when you are the only one that is cutting the other person slack. In this scenario, you understand that human beings have the tendency to be inconsistent, but the person that you are having a disagreement with, believes their opinion to be the objective truth. You don’t want the situation to escalate, but they don’t seem to care whether it does. Or maybe, the conflict is their intention in the first place. What do you do in this scenario? Well, of course, it depends on the individual you are having the disagreement with. You have to gauge how much empathy they are capable of dispensing. If it seems like there’s a chance of resolving the conflict, try to do so. But if they aren’t responding appropriately, by all means, tell them to go fuck themself. My point is that if they aren’t ready to come to a compromise, or if the only (metaphorical) language they are capable of speaking is aggression, then you will have to speak that language to them in order for them to understand you.
The other option is walking away. I used to always walk away because I had principles that I didn’t want to give up. The problem this caused was an emotional toll. Despite knowing logically that I had taken the moral high ground and not wasted my attention, I had something weighing on me. Inside, unexpressed anger and frustration festered. It’s tempting to try to dismiss these things as illogical emotions, but when they are there because of unresolved conflict, and when they persist, they matter. So, at the time of conflict, you must weigh up whether it is better to A) walk away or B) respond to the aggression in kind.
Usually there isn’t time to properly decide. And, of course, the emotions of the moment make it difficult. You won’t feel you’ve made the ‘right’ choice a lot of the time. That’s okay. It matters that you try, and that you are honest with yourself.
I feel that the reason many of us are scared to show compassion and empathy is that we are afraid it won’t be reciprocated. But if all of us have that fear, we will drift further and further apart. Sometimes, you have to be the one to take the first steps. And yes, in a world where others are afraid to do so, and where some people act horribly, showing compassion has become an act of courage. It can feel unfair. That is why you have to use your judgement, and remember that your own emotions do matter as well.
When others judge you for being ‘nice’, they are the weaker ones. Cynicism is an overrated defense mechanism. When you break out of it, you are the stronger party. If you live in fear of others not understanding your decency, you are letting them determine your conduct. In reality, you have as much power as they do to determine the etiquette and the amount of warmth that goes into an interaction: you have to remember that you are socially accountable. Of course, when others overstep the mark, you’re under no obligation to put up with abuse. But when that happens, it is a matter of them not understanding their place, rather than you not understanding yours.
When you realise that you are socially accountable, the question that arises is the extent to which it is your right (or responsibility) to help or correct others. If people aren’t on the same wavelength as you, they won’t be receptive. However, retrospect is a handy gift. There have been times when I’ve disagreed with people, only to realise later that they had a point. The reason I only realised later was because I had time to gradually mull the matter over and become less emotionally invested in my previous point of view. So sometimes it is worth giving someone a word or two of your opinion, even if they don’t seem receptive at the time. This goes without saying: be nice about it.
What should you at times when you are finding it hard to empathize? Sometimes you are simply unable to imagine what it is like to be someone else. At those times, rather than abstractly trying to feel for them, it helps to use logic. You KNOW that they must be feeling something. Even if you can’t engage emotionally, you can use your knowledge of what they’re doing to intellectually get an idea of what their emotions might be.
Lastly, you’re not always going to do the right thing. The best thing you can do is be honest with yourself and come to terms with it. It’s easier to try to justify your mistakes, but it’s more truthful to accept the fact you are capable of making mistakes. I actually think it’s even more forgiving. Justifying something to yourself takes energy, stress and surpression. Accepting mistakes – and trying to do better – is easier.
Please continue the discussion down below. I am very keen to hear what others think about this topic. What are your tactics for becoming more empathetic? How do you deal with others when they aren’t? Did you agree with what I said, or were there parts that confused you? I will also be happy to answer questions on this topic if you have them.
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