“Life is a journey not a destination”. Ralph Waldo Emerson
“I can’t even find the highway”. Jeff L. Taylor
I have never been known for my strong sense of direction. When people start talking about heading east towards Maple Street, I immediately ask, “Is that where the McDonald’s is?” Since I have such a terrible sense of direction on roads, I desire even more to be heading in the right direction in life. And, before I leave the garage, I want to be sure I am taking the correct side roads to get to the highway.
Here is a starting point that can serve as a compass to ensure we find the correct highway. There are two keys areas which will effectively move someone towards relational health and serve as a foundation towards TRUE success in life . . .
Introspection: The ability to look inward and examine both motive and behavior.
Empathy: Effectively entering someone else’s world with compassion.
These two ideas are a continuous road sign to keep us moving in the correct direction. When we do not commit to cultivating these areas, we are ignoring GIANT road signs which clearly state “YOU ARE GOING THE WRONG WAY.
Part of this road is difficult, and it reminds me of something my Cross-Country coach used to say, “Pain is your best friend”. His point was simple. To become faster you must push through the pain. This is also a significant truth for how we mature as people. To become a grownup, we must push through the healthy pain that life brings us. Introspection and empathy REQUIRE healthy “stings” to move us towards emotional and relationship success.
Let’s flip it around so you can know when you are heading in the wrong direction . . .
The opposite of introspection is BLAME. If, in most situations you accuse others, you are moving down the wrong path. A certain aspect of blame is normal and can be like hitting small speed bumps that slow us down. It is the ability to go back to start and begin with taking appropriate responsibility that is truly key.
A lack of empathy creates judgment and condescension. When you find yourself nearly always being right---turn around and seek to truly understand the other person and their position. Empathy does not require agreement with the position. However, it truly deepens the value of the individual EVEN if you do not agree with their perspective.
These two words: INTROSPECTION and EMPATHY are neon signs that when utilized create cushioned guard rails to keep us headed in the direction we TRULY desire. Just imagine where you will be years down the road if you practice these values each day.
Here are are a few ideas to help you cultivate the muscles of introspection and empathy.
Choose a bump you are having (or have had) in your life with someone. Ask these two questions:
What is (or was) my responsibility that I need to take?
How can I understand better the perspective of the other person?
Try this exercise for a full day:
Each time you experience an emotion of irritation, frustration or anger. STOP.
What motive are you applying to what the other person has done?
What do you need to own?
Do you need to communicate that to the person?
Is there anything you can do to convey to the other person the value of the relationship?
At the end of the day, write a brief description of how you feel.
Lastly, remember that introspection and empathy are not a destination. The are a continual part of the right road on your journey.