Rejection was often public and personal. More of a trigger for developing a complex rather than a neurosis in of itself.
The impact books have on our lives is not limited to the words written between the covers. Some books inspire new thoughts and send us to unexpected places. Follow me Down the Rabbit Hole in this recurring segment.
Before FoMO , missing out was simply called being left out. Rather than an abstract feeling of deprivation, exclusion was more tangible. It was an empty hand while party invitations were passed out. It was being told you couldn’t play because your action figure was from the wrong TV show. It was watching your friends ride away because you didn’t have a bike. Since it was intricately linked with the people you interacted with from day to day, the rejection was often public and personal. More of a trigger for developing a complex rather than a neurosis in of itself.
This subject sends my mind wandering through myriad childhood memories, some as the rejected and others, admittedly, as the antagonist. While playground justice could be swift, it proved far less effective than that found at home. My mother did not tolerate unkindness.
My childhood home was a gathering place for neighbourhood kids, and rife with all the group dynamics that go along with play. I recall once wielding my territorial dominance to tell another kid they could not play along. At the blink of an eye my mother was beside me, demanding “How would you feel if…” It was as close to a family moto as any. To drive her point home, she handed my toys over to my victim, and I was required to take their place. Left alone I watched others enjoy my things, in my house, receiving the loving hospitality of my mother. All the while, their squeals of enjoyment intensified the sting of exclusion.
Like I said, I recall doing it only once. To this day, I harbour a fear of leaving people out. What would you call that? FoLO? With FoLO the only guilt-free guest list options are either everyone or no one.
In that circumstance, the lesson was effective partially due to the ease in which I was able to assume another’s perspective. I didn’t need any additional information to easily slip my feet into another’s shoes. The lens through which us two neighbourhood kids saw the world was similar. What would have happened, though, if they weren’t?
In his book Nonviolent Communication, Marshall B. Rosenberg stresses the importance of empathy for connecting with others. This is much easier said than done. Cognitive empathy, otherwise known as perspective taking, is often approached as a thought experiment for which all the required information is in hand. Commonly, people imagine how they themselves would feel in the same situation. This strategy might reliably produce adequate results in close knit groups, contributing to a false sense of emotional intelligence. The true test occurs when people with differing backgrounds and experiences try to empathize with each other.
How can I understand someone’s perspective if I don’t know about their lived experience? Firstly, I admit that I don’t know what I don’t know. Then, I seek out material written by those more knowledgeable than me. Trainers like Roxy Manning, PhD face the intersection of inequality and NVC head on, with practical guidance on subjects such as centring from a place of privilege, the equity of needs, and microaggressions. She illustrates nuance in connection amid diversity, for which there is no universal four-step formula. Think of it as a thought experiment for which vital information may be missing.
It sounds harder to apply because it is.
The truth is, NVC methods are too onerous, structured, and simple to flow naturally during everyday encounters. Engaging in a conversational deep dive about feelings and needs can be constructive for my closest relationships. With strangers, I think it’s enough that I internally consider their position and skip getting too personal. Prying feels too much like a violation of privacy. Instead, I put NVC to its greatest use in my most intimate relationship—that with myself.
One of my biggest takeaways from NVC was the claim that we need empathy to give empathy. It reminded me of a story I heard as a child where a healer cured others by eating their sickness. As time went on, the healer herself grew ill, tired, and bitter, having nothing left to heal herself. The image of her gruesome state still flashes in my mind when demands threaten to overwhelm me.
Bleak, I know. Except for a second crucial realization: I can give empathy to myself. Through self-reflection, development of emotional intelligence, and understanding my needs, I can heal myself rather than putting the burden on another. At least that’s the idea. It’s emotional self-care: more work than a spa day, but more lasting, too.
The question “how would you feel if…” changes from an exercise in empathy to a way to prepare how to listen. How would I feel if I found myself trying to take a perspective I don’t yet understand? How would I feel if my needs weren’t discussed at all during a conversation? How would I feel if someone’s need was greater than mine? Sorting through my needs and feelings ahead of time might safeguard me from self-centredness.
My childhood lesson about empathy was simple; an elementary starting point. As an adult, FoLO is not just about inviting everyone to a backyard party. It’s about realizing that my world view leaves out perspectives beyond my limited experience and knowledge. Consequently, no single communication technique is going to cover all circumstances, but each is another tool in my belt. At a time when more information is at our fingertips than ever before, my ability to learn about others perspectives is only limited by time, willingness, and my own emotional condition.
How do you empathize with others? Is there a childhood memory about empathy that sticks out for you? What affects your life more, FoMO or FoLO?
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