Posted by: Ariel | February 27, 2012

Wearing your heart on your sleeve

empathy

image source: frameworksinstitute.org

When we express emotion, we are judged. And the more we need to be accepted, the more we need to repress our feelings or conform with the group. In that way, a genuine emotion is a more truthful piece of communication than words. And so, to truly understand each other, we have to empathize and not just recognize. There’s a reason you have to walk a mile and not just try on the shoes.

There’s a common emotional framework of valence and arousal – where emotions vary on one axis between calm and excited and on another between negative and positive. I’ve read in “The Man Who Lied to His Laptop” that in order to connect with someone in a bad mood, for example, you need to match their emotional state instead of just exhorting them to feel better. This rings true with me. It’s hard to just make someone feel better, but you can make it less lonely.

I think people should express their emotions more freely, especially in non-professional situations. It may be more risky, but the potential for connection is higher. It’s fun to share a moment with a stranger (one of my life goals is to have a non-creepy wink with a stranger). Not to mention, it defuses so many of the games people play. Particularly when something negative or embarrassing happens to you in public, try acknowledging it instead of pretending it didn’t happen. You’d be surprised how the empathy of strangers can make you feel better. Instead of being worried about fitting in, standing out, or being accepted, I’d rather strive to accept myself and be comfortable with who I am. Being able to laugh at yourself is a great talent.

I have been trying to figure out why this video is so hilariously funny, and I think it’s not only because the kids are so silly – it’s because we all identify with them, empathize with them, and remember what it’s like to be that devastated over something, even if it turned out later to be inconsequential. We laugh because we understand, we’re just more afraid to be laughed at now that we’re grown up. So much of art is based on teasing out the tiny hints of emotion we let slip, from the Mona Lisa’s smile to the candid shot. By those standards, this is a masterpiece.

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