What the World Needs Now

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“What the world needs now is love …. Not just for some, but for everyone.”

Burt Bacharach and Hal David wrote that song in 1965, when the United States was involved in the Vietnam War.  Are we at war again now, 53 years later, not overseas, but at home? 

Well, we do have a war of words and actions directed at demolishing others.  Oh, “others”?  Even characterizing another person as “the other” creates division.  It becomes all too easy to become divided into camps of “us versus them”.  So, let’s try again…we have a war of words and actions that obscures our common humanity.

When our primary source of news switched from newspapers to social media, we entered a “post-truth world” in which people read, listen, and watch what they agree with, not what challenges their preconceptions.  Isolation from different points of view, different values, different customs all entrenches us in our preconceptions.

Most of our preconceptions are based on gaining or maintaining power over another group of people. For example, if we read on our social media sites that blue people who come to the United States are free-loaders we will probably not be exposed to news about the blue people who contribute to our society.  We then can maintain our previous prejudice and see “them” as not as good as “us”.  Furthermore, if we exclude blue people from our social groups, we can associate only with people with the same belief, thereby solidifying our belief.

What, then, might heal these divisions and antipathies? 

Love is what the world needs now.  But can we love someone who thinks differently, acts differently, and looks different?  There is a way to do this and it is called “empathy”. 

To have empathy for another person means setting aside our evaluations of that person.  Then we actively listen to the other person’s thoughts and feelings and acknowledge we heard them.1   This doesn’t mean we agree with the other person, just that we understand where that person is coming from and tell that person that we do.

When we are viewing another person with empathy, we have momentarily let go of our defenses.  And when we acknowledge the other person’s thoughts and feelings it disarms him/her.  Defenses are not needed by either party, so better communication and cooperation can emerge.

A loving empathy has been used even to defuse conflict between groups of people.2 The surprising fact is that both parties do not have to show empathy initially.  It only takes one person or group to start the process of empathetic communication.  And then empathy begets empathy.3

Through empathy, then, we have the power to connect with others at a level that is deeper than attitudes and beliefs.  When we truly listen to the other person, we see the other person’s humanity beyond our previous preconceptions.  No longer is there a power struggle of us versus them.  There are just two human beings willing to listen to each other, heart to heart, without judgment. Then we can connect through acknowledging our common human needs, feelings, and fears. 

The empathetic approach to relationships is backed by evidence that it works—it works to neutralize power differences and tensions.4 Empathy is a viable alternative to our present way of seizing and using power.  It is a quiet revolution.5

References

(Notice how old the references below are and, yet, we still have not implemented them throughout our society.)

  1. Rogers, C. (1957). The necessary and sufficient conditions of therapeutic personality change. Journal of Consulting Psychology 21, 95-103.
  2. Rogers, C., and Sanford, R. (1987). Reflections on our South African experience. Counseling and Values (Special issue on Carl Rogers and the person-centered approach to peace) 32, 17-20.
  3. Feshbach, N.D. & Feshbach, S. (1982). Empathy training and the regulation of aggression: Potentialities and limitations. Academic Psychology Bulletin, 4, 399-413.
  4. Rogers, C. R., and Sanford, R. (1987). Inside the world of the Soviet professional. Journal of Humanistic Psychology 27, 277-304.
  5. Rogers, C. (1977). On personal power: Inner strength and its revolutionary impact. New York: Delacorte Press.    

 

Seeing Others as a Threat and How to Change It

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Our nation is increasingly becoming divided into opposing groups.  Yes, most of us have a tendency to feel most comfortable when we associate with people who look or think like ourselves.  People who look or think differently than we do, make us uncomfortable.  So, we stay away from them and isolate ourselves even further with our own kind.

Our isolation from others is intensified as we subscribe to popular media which confirms our point of view.  People outside our group may have a different point of view but we are not exposed to it.  Then we begin surmising what other people think.  People who dress like Muslims might think like or (gasp) be terrorists.  People who are trying to emigrate to the United States might think they can be freeloaders.  These stereotypes all come from seeing people outside our group as a threat, which popular media perpetuates.

It is the way we see people not like us that creates fear and hate—not the actual reality.  Yes, some people from our group as well as some people outside our group are terrorists and freeloaders, but most people are not.  Yet we continue to have a perception of people not like us as a threat.

To change our perception, we must be exposed to people not like us in positive contexts.  One way to develop positive images is through travel where we interact with others—this could be travel within or outside the United States.  Another way is to view positive images and stories about people from groups other than our own in popular media (social media, television, magazines, newspapers), schools, churches, even stores.

We need to reach out and speak to people other than those in our own group.  But, most of all, we need to listen to them.

 

Five Ways Not to Be Lonely on Valentine’s Day

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Does the upcoming Valentine’s Day make you wish you had someone to love (and to love you)?  Do you miss a loved one?  Or do you just feel lonely?

Don’t despair—there are ways to feel less lonely during all the Valentine’s Day hype. 

Perhaps you have tried interacting with others on your smartphone or even with an online group. But recent studies have shown that we become even lonelier during screen time because it does not provide the meaningful, deep connection with others that we long for. 

To dispel loneliness get out of your house and get involved with an activity you like.  Besides having an enjoyable time, you might even find a new acquaintance, friend, lover.  Don’t wait for someone to find you—smile and start talking with someone nearby while engaged in the following activities.

Volunteer

               Think about who you would get the most satisfaction from helping.  Would it be children, teenagers, adults in special circumstances, senior citizens?  Then do an online search for where you might be most needed.  The search terms would be the name of your city and the word, “volunteer”.  Or, you can make the search more specific, by adding the name of the group you would like to help (e.g. homeless, migrants, special needs, hospitalized). VolunteerMatch.com and CreateTheGood.com are two sites that list volunteer opportunities in your local community.  Not only would you be making a positive change in your community, you would be meeting people who are also volunteering.

Foster or Adopt a Pet

                You may find a loving pet to be a loving companion.  A cat can give you warm, soft comfort as it curls up on your lap. A dog might even get you out of your house on a daily basis, where you might meet some of your neighbors.  Or you and your dog might meet other doggie lovers at a doggie park. Contact your local pet adoption group to foster or adopt a pet.

Join a Special Interest Group

                If you have a hobby or special area of interest, you could join a group of people who share that interest. Every city has an abundance of special interest groups.  Find one at meetup.com.  Some of the meetups in your city involve hiking, cooking, developing a new skill, discussing a topic, and participating in a sport.

Sign up for a Course or a Fitness Center’s Program

                If you have a regularly scheduled event where you are with other people, you already have a way not to be lonely during the upcoming Valentine’s Day.  Find classes at your local adult schools or universities that might interest you.  Join a fitness center.  And don’t forget to reach out to others by maybe asking for help with something.

Read a Good Book

                Visit your local library or bookstore. Selecting a book from browsing the shelves will give you an opportunity to interact with others before going home to read that book.  Escape to another world through an engrossing fiction book.  Learn something new through a helpful nonfiction book. One nonfiction book, Love Demystified: Strategies for a Successful Love Life, will give you even more suggestions on how to dispel the Valentine’s Day blues.