Lead Photo Credit: Douglas Hubbard
I recently had a conversation with some close friends of mine about how we feel we’ve grown over the years. I am lucky to have known these women for over 15 years at this point, so we specifically discussed ways our views have changed since we all first met. Our individual opinions varied but one thing was constant – the perspective we gained over the years changed the way each of us viewed the world.
In our discussion, my friends and I all expressed regret that we had been judgmental of others in the past, due to the opinions we had held in the past. While some of the views did not change (or didn’t change much), we all saw our critical treatment of others as wrong. We had shown a lack of empathy – an unwillingness to see things from another’s perspective.
Photo Credit: Vanessa Goldy
How powerful empathy can be! Putting yourself in another’s shoes opens up compassion, understanding, and connection. One of the most frequent ways I’ve experienced empathy from a changed perspective is through motherhood. I recall times where I was, unfortunately, critical of parents I encountered over the years. For example, as a young adult I saw a mother breastfeeding her child in a public meeting. I remember feeling shocked and a little scandalized that she didn’t use any cover or leave the room. Naturally I have a different view after having kids of my own (who never tolerated my use of a nursing cover themselves!) and see the situation with more understanding. What was really happening? A mother was making sure her baby was fed. Furthermore, she had other small children in tow – leaving the room would certainly have been a chore! While I am embarrassed at the criticism I held (albeit internally) at the time, I use this experience as an example to myself, as a reminder to look at situations from the other’s point of view.
Often in life, time gives us the gift of a new perspective on trials we experience. I recently read a journal that I kept during my teenage years. Reading about my teenage years with 20 extra years of experience naturally influenced the way I viewed the memories. I saw the early signs of the anxiety I wouldn’t be officially diagnosed with for years. I recognized a tendency to blame myself for things I had no control over. Time after time, I found myself wanting to reach through the pages of the journal and comfort my past self. This led to a breakthrough in my mental health journey: If I could so easily use the wisdom of my years to show grace to my teenage self, perhaps I could also look at my current self from such a compassionate perspective. It is a work in progress, but I find I am more often able to step back from the immediacy of trials and show myself more understanding.
Photo Credit: Katrina Hubbard
As a mother, I find myself constantly trying to teach my children empathy, to have them see things from their siblings’ perspectives. I recognize that this is a lesson I can continue to learn as an adult and strive to do so. I hope we all find ways to broaden our perspective and show empathy to others and ourselves.
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