My wife emailed me a link…
Likely you’ve seen the post.
Its been on Yahoo Parenting and on the Good Housekeeping site.
It’s titled: “Estrangement Doesn’t Just Happen to ‘Bad’ Moms — It Happened to Me Too”. In the post the author discusses her son’s engagement to a young woman, their wedding plans and how everything fell apart propelling the family to non-speaking terms hence the estrangement alluded to in the piece’s title.
Given our own “estrangement tale” she likely felt that the piece would resonate and maybe offer some solace. After reading the article I mentioned that the story was a sad one. I also added that it felt as if “pieces were missing”.
A few days later my wife told me to take another look at the article saying, “This time scroll down and read the comments,” my wife said. “Read them and then tell me what you think.”
The piece, as it appears on the Good Housekeeping site at least, had over 3000 comments. I started reading and began to notice something.
For every positive-minded and supportive comment there were at least three condemning the author for her “apparent” shortcomings as a mother and a parent. Relationship guru Dr. John Gottman has noticed that in healthy relationships partners will offer 3 positive insights for every 1 negative. This golden ratio of his indicates how we value one another. Social media it would seem tarnishes that ratio into a weird and twisted pattern of boundless negativity.
Condemning concepts, values, perceptions and practices becomes the norm as though simply possessing “Twitter thumbs” gives us license to do so. Rarely, can be seen genuine support or actually cheer accomplished as often as we criticize and opine.
Offering empathetic support, without malice or rabid commentary appears impossible for most. It’s as if reaching out with empathy is somehow perceived as a cultural weakness.
When things go wrong, or even slightly wrong, in people’s lives our primary collective inclination is to lay blame. At which point, holy crap, every troll on the World Wide Web jumps readily on the “I told you so” bandwagon emboldening other by-standers to claim a license of authority in situations they know little to nothing about.
With this particular post, a great many comments challenged the author. Allegations flew with people asking things like: What did you do wrong? How are you responsible? What are you leaving out? This can’t be all that happened? Why didn’t you just give in?
True the writer glossed over certain events, however that in no way negates the genuine pain that the underlying story reveals. Some commenters even leveled accusations that the writer was whitewashing her own biases, her own judgement and to some degree her own crazy.
Why such cynical responses?
When someone bears their soul — speaks or writes of some emotionally excruciating event — why do we feel our opinion actually matters? How is it that we’ve been led (or misled) to believe in the sanctity of our own perspective as audience and critic?
In the comfortable vacuum of the blogosphere, critics abound in bringing forth the hate and the expense of empathy and understanding. In the veritable anonymity of the vast world wide web-o-rama more people questioned that author’s veracity, ethics, morality, parenting going so far as to point out her clear psychological flaws, apparent selfishness, petty groaning and manipulative nature.
“Why weigh in with such negativity,” I wondered aloud.
Of course this came after engaging in a twenty-two minute discourse — which my wife openly claimed she stopped listening to and which can be summed up quite simply in three words: we lack compassion.
That’s it in a nutshell.
These notions we cling to of “right” and “wrong” originate from a self-centered perspective, and that practice is given by pure ego. Often times that ego driven practice, this self-centered approach to duality, becomes an enemy of unity, balance and peace.
Empathy vs. Sympathy
Our biases trick us using our perceived ethical architecture.
With respect to the vocal critics of the parenting post in question, why must they assume that the author, the mother is somehow “wrong”? Why assume she shares her story only to air dirty laundry and create a biased portrait to tarnish her son? Why assume she strives for cultivating a base of support so vast that she “wins” this round?
Honestly, how and when did the trolls’ “right” become the standard for rightness throughout the kingdom? What these critics offer are sympathetic rather than empathetic responses. Sympathy is feeling for; empathy is feeling with.
Feeling for can take numerous and destructive shapes — that include anger, judgement and criticism in addition to what researcher Dr. Brene Brown refers as “sliver lining” events and circumstances which others are experiencing or have experienced.
Why are we like this?
Well, Brown has answers* for that question.
Brown says the following regarding the difference between sympathy and empathy: “Rarely can a response make something better; what makes something better is connection.”
Empathy is connection whereas sympathy is disconnection. Often when we express sympathy for someone we create an emotional distance between us and them. In a sense this foster a sense of false superiority suggesting that we are lucky enough not to feel the thing that someone else is feeling. Sympathy rarely enacts compassion.
That is all the author of the post regarding her estrangement from her son was seeking — connection. Pure and simple. She wasn’t looking for a lecture; she wasn’t looking to lay blame; she wasn’t looking for others to “solve” the mysterious relationships embedded deep within her family dynamic.
No, she wanted to be heard; she wanted to be see. To hear and to see are compassionate responses, not sympathetic reactions.
I’m sure that as a writer, a mother and a human being, she had to be aware that some readers would connect and others would not. To some degree every writer knows they will not reach every reader. However those that offered judgmental responses, filled with disconnection, bring little to the conversation.
When people choose to share, they are making a conscious decision to be vulnerable, to open themselves up.
As listeners — or readers — it does not honor their vulnerability by passing judgement. It does not honor ourselves to say anything less than, “I know what you mean. That really sucks.”
In the grand scheme of things doesn’t it make more sense to say “I hear you” rather than “You’re so wrong”?
And if we reacted as such what kind of world might we be creating?
*See Dr. Brene Brown’s talk in its entirety here.