The Truth About Empathy

20140112_121403As a counselor, one of the first things I learned in my graduate level classes was that Empathy is King in the counseling room. The ability to connect with another human being’s emotive state THEN communicate that you “get” why they feel that way AND that you support their cognitive interpretation of a situation that leads to their life, usually sucking ass, is a powerful relational skill.

Empathy, when used correctly, fosters intimacy in a relationship. Connections we hold are deepened, when we empathize. Empathy strengthens the bond we have created and maintain with someone whom we love and desire to be with. So sweet, powerful and WRONG.

The only issue with how empathy is taught is that we engage in empathetic behaviors for US and NOT for the other individual.

Walking a mile in someone else’s shoes…

wondering how “they felt” or

being told, how would you feel if blah blah did THAT to you is really bass-ackward. And the last statement is just someone trying to get you to do what they wanted you to do in the first place so that your shit does not stink up their life.

The simple truth about empathy: we choose to be empathetic with people because that behavior, like all behaviors, helps us get what we want.

We human beings act, behave, respond and do stuff to GET OUR NEEDS MET. Nothing wrong with that. It’s human nature. In a overly polite and fake world, we deny the acceptance of our own needs as primary for the fallacy that if we put others first we are a better human being. FALSE!

If you consistently put other people’s needs above those of your own, you are codependent and will eventually become a bitter, resentful, asshole who destroys the relationships you have and will end up a lone eating turkey sandwiches on Thanksgiving in a cardboard box under the highway.

As warm and fuzzy as we want to get about empathy, and compromise for that matter – which is a whole-other article – psychology, theology and general “look at me doing good” do-gooders (who only do good to get their needs met anyway) in the whole who need to shut up place the emphasis in the wrong place.

Empathy is a behavior in which one freely engages in order to improve the quality and depth of a connection. Without the freedom to be empathetic OR NOT, empathy then is a false, kiss your ass, behavior that leads to a breakdown in trust and then the total implosion of a relationship.

I empathize with my wife and children because I love them, care about them and want the connection to be deepened so that I get my needs for love, fun and autonomy met. I empathize with my wife because I want to see her happy, health and whole. Why? Happy wife, happy life. And I get more sex, hockey games, date nights and so on.

I am empathetic with my staff because I like a stress free work area and that they get their work completed so that the team is successful. I choose to be empathetic because I enjoy being their colleague and I like them and I want to have fun and be successful. If I didn’t want fun and success in the work place and didn’t care about strengthening my working relationships  would be a complete horses’ ass. Oops, my wife says that insults the horse, so hippo’s ass. My wife does not like pachyderms.

If I didn’t care about my autonomy, ability to have fun, play and learn and achieve success, I would give a shit about the people with whom I work and love and not work to improve our relationships where are the very vehicle that delivers my autonomy, fun, play, learning and success.

At the end of the day, freely choosing to be empathetic allows us to get what we need. And until you accept that, you can never truly be freely empathetic.

How Did I Get Here

There are times I pause and look around my life, backwards, forwards , left and right, and wonder how in the hell did I get here?

I am the father of two awesome, smart, sassy and confident kids who take no crap from anyone including their wacky and quirky father. They have had to cope and deal with much; being a part of this family and they have become strong as they persevered. They have developed character as they overcome adversity.

I am also the father of two beautiful kids whose lives were cut way to short due to a congenital heart defect. A father of two children whose lives I will grieve daily for the rest of my existence on this rock. Now there is a nice load of crap I carry to my grave.

I am a husband who has been an asshole, shit-head and lover, poet and eternal optimist. A husband who has created worse and prayed for better, been the emotional anchor during sickness and the pillar of health, an ass when richer and a genuine, authentic and cathartic voice of reason during poorer.

A homeless man who prefers to rent rathet than own the homes in which he lived. A gardner, hand-man, farmer and general contractor on a home he never wanted and tolerates out of love for his family. A domicile dweller who experiences extreme and uncontrolled panic due to his over active imagination concerning a home he could really give two shits about. Ah, the crazy things we do for love.

A sober man. Not completely alcohol free as the near beers hit the spot when this fifty year old, fat, over educated, under employed white boy needs to free his inner bubba. No drugs. Yet the taste of beer over a kiddie cocktail sometimes just hits the spot and reminds me I am still an adult, even though I keep the man-child well hidden.

A counselor who is also a satirical and cathartic S.O.B. who is simply seeking a little healing from The Bullshit of Life, that is the movie of the week, that is his life.

How did I get here?

No place else I’d rather be.

For this is where I have been destined to start the second half of my life that is bound to be a roller coaster ride of excitement and thrills.

The adventure is about to begin.

Posted by a Frequent Flyer to Hell and Back using his Phone. Cool!

365 Days, an Oak Tree & Nightmare

20131118_101945 (1)365 days ago, my life and house were changed forever. A year ago, today, a large oak tree ripped through the deck and living room of our home.

How rude.

Too cold for you Mother Oak?

Needing companionship in late fall here in the great Midwest?

I hate home ownership. Hate it.

A history lesson. I have owned a total of three homes. With each home-ownership experience, I have associated a big time, life altering, negative event.

Now, these events actually occurred and are pretty awful. So, it is not like I associate some irrational fear or delusion to these experience of owning a home.

Home 1: a condo. My wife and I experienced financial and relational hardships, I was a jack-ass and drunk who was into the notion that if it feels good it heals good! Sold Home 1 during a pending divorce, then reconciliation. I was an awful husband. Great drunk and skirt chaser; just a horrible husband.

Home 2: a single family home. After loosing my job, failure to find another job and running out of money, I sold it to avoid foreclosure. I though that was the reasonable and responsible think to do. I could no longer afford it. I didn’t deserve to keep it. And I didn’t want to keep it. Many people told me to protect our home with bankruptcy. Why protect a the home to which two of our four children never returned?

Home 3: a single family home in which we now reside. Only 14 months after moving in a large oak tree crashed through the heart of our home. A year later, I am still dealing with State Farm and the horrible at customer service restoration company that attempted to repair the damage.

In the end, I love my wife and family, who all want to live in a home that we own. I have two choices (1) stay with my family and love them or (2) move out and ease my anxiety over owing a home. Yeah, it is that simple. Stay and honor my wife and family or not. Leave.

Then, once I choose, there are more choices: (1) if I stay and reside in a home I don’t want to own, how the hell do I cope with the inevitable stress the house will present:: repairs, new things needed, ware and tear requiring “handy-man” skills that I don’t posses. or (2) LEAVE.

There is a third option, make enough dough to cover house costs. Yeah, and that choice leads to more choices and a lot less control.

Choosing to cope and deal with the stress to home ownership is ALL on me. Making it big as a writer, speaker, video producer and podcast host are in my control to a point. At some point, other people have to respond to my talents and abilities.

The Power of Story

From a Commencement Key Note Address for Argosy University:

Picture this…

You, soon to be alumni of Argosy University, embark upon a journey into the depths of your soul beyond that which is known to anyone, maybe even yourself. You begin an adventure, a quest of epic proportion as vast as space itself and timeless as infinity to share your conquests, hopes and dreams. To inspire others. To motivate yourself and fill the middle ground between light and shadow; science and superstition; student and graduate; reality and fantasy. You are about to enter the dimension of imagination that I call:

The Story Zone

In your pocket, a modern techno-gadget suddenly springs to life. Vibrations radiate forth. “Turn off your cell phone”, echoes in your mind. You did not follow the instructions of your professors – yet again! Do you dare to casually and nonchalantly check your device? Heck no. Bob Zima is speaking. And this guy is good.

Who could be texting or calling anyway? Your mind takes you on a roller coaster, rolodex ride.

You can’t resist. You MUST LOOK. You read the text. Pause. Read it again. Shake your head. You’re confused. Confounded. What dimension have you traveled into at the mere prompting of this guest speaker?

Steven Spielberg with JJ Abrams? They want to produce a mini-series based on your life. YOUR LIFE? WWWWWWHHHHAAAAAAAAAAT? “Why me?” you ponder. I am not that interesting. Doubt creeps in. Maybe I am “a little” interesting. OK! Somewhat interesting. At least that is what my BF, GF, BFF, YOLO bracelet, M.O.M. and/or D.A.D. says. Do they have to say that?

Your internal confidence is growing.

Then panic sets in!

What if people find out that you are fearful, NO, terrified, of dreaming, hoping and striving for a future of which YOU have long imagined? You may FAIL. OMG! Fail and still have the LOANS! You may also SUCCEED. Yeah, YOU like that!

The Power of Story is the muscle of imagination. The Power of Story is the dominion of memory. The Power of Story propels dreams. The Power of Story fosters faith and fuels hope. The Power of Story inspires. Motivates.

The stories told by movie makers, novel writers, playwrights, song scribes, poets and even you, the author of the story of your life, have a couple of structural components in common: First, lead characters face adversity, accept challenges and ultimately, against all odds, succeed! Like completing a college education. Securing a collegiate degree is not easy or something you could do in your sleep. Although some professors, none of course on this stage, bored you to sleep and almost death. Just staying awake was THE challenge you had to overcome. You, just like Indiana Jones on his quests for the Arch of the Covenant, Crystal Skull and Holy Grail, remained focused on the prize and secured your treasure: A college degree. Without it you would fall into a dark and gloomy tomb of broken dreams! Snakes, why did it have to be snakes?

Second, lead characters stumble, make mistakes, learn life lessons and develop perseverance. You, like Jack, Kate and Sawyer, may have felt Lost in certain classes, and maybe even the building. You may have taken a few wrong turns down a dead-end hatch. Missed an assignment deadline or flagged a test. You may have wondered will I ever graduate and get to stop pushing this darn button every 108 minutes.

You are the lead character in your story. You have found and secured the prize artifact: a degree. You are graduating and no longer lost. Time to leave this island and make a name and life for yourself. Time for dreams to happen. Time to tell your stories of your past and future.

I am a Frequent Flyer to Hell and Back. That “tag line” may trigger thoughts. “What does he mean ‘Frequent Flyer’?” “His life must really suck.” “How did HE get selected to speak at MY commencement? Gotta be a story there. They wouldn’t hire a no-body, who failed, lost or would they?” Your mind comes alive attempting to comprehend and construct THE story behind my self-promoting tag line.

As a frequent Flyer to Hell and Back, licensed clinical professional counselor, writer, podcast host and alumni of The Player’s Workshop of the Second City, I learned that the power of story is NOT WHAT HAPPENS to us. Rather, the Power of Story is HOW WE RESPOND to what happens to us.

The power of my story is NOT my addiction to drugs and alcohol. The power is HOW I gained and maintain sobriety. The power of my story is NOT that I lost my home and ended up homeless with a young family. The power is HOW I stayed sane living in my in-law’s basement. HOW I returned to school to make a better life for my family. HOW I worked to once again afford the life style of homeownership. The power of my story is NOT that I am a parent who buried two infant children. The power is HOW I inspire others and motivate myself to seek healing, to grieve and to improve the quality of life.

HOW does one accomplish HOW? That’s the 64 million dollar questions. If I figure that I out I will write another book, sell billions of copies and live on an island and never work again in my life.

HOW is as unique and personalized as each one of us. And the life story that we have lived, are living and will live. HOW is a life long journey of telling and learning from the stories of our life. HOW requires a leap of faith. HOW requires trust in yourself. HOW requires belief in your skills, talents and education.
HOW…ever this is YOUR Day and I am a supporting character in your story. So, when you speak to your friends and family members who are NOT present with us today, please relay that the commencement speaker was funny, entertaining, didn’t talk too long and was good looking.

Since you are still clutching your cell and mentally integrating Spielberg and Abram’s text into your life story, use it to take a selfie of yourself with the great story teller and speaker.

I can wait. Go on. Don’t be shy.

Now tweet it, gram me, Facebook the pic and share it with your world. Tell the story of your graduation ceremony NOW. Because YOU CAN! God I love technology.

From the beginning of time, the power of story has played a major role in the lives of all people. Oral tradition allowed early cultures to maintain historical connections among older generations while entertaining and educating newer generations. Sort of like the ancient tradition of Twitter. Short blurbs about life shared with followers.

Pictures, drawing and hieroglyphics advanced storytelling. Personal and societal histories could be “documented” and retained. Sort of like Instagram. Share a picture and share a story worth 1000 words. You in your cap and gown speaks volumes.

The alphabet inspired the innovations of Chinese printing blocks and Gutenberg’s printing press. These old-school, techno advancements allowed story to be documented then distributed. Sort of like blogs.

Marconi helped story reach a mass audience. Perhaps you are familiar with Orson Well’s great prank The War of the Worlds. What a fabulous podcast of yesteryear.

Zuckerberg allowed documented personal stories and histories of millions of individual people to be widely distributed to highly selective or perhaps not so selective audience.

Story is how we, collectively and individually, know where we have been, where we are and where we are headed. Story is the road map of our lives, full of mile markers known as memories and dreams. Recall that mile marker of being accepted into Argosy, your first class, the first friend you made. Memories have power. They are unleashed through story telling.

Now, imagine the mile markers yet ahead: that new job, that longer title, vice-president of (you fill in the blank), that corner office next to the Keurig machine, that life’s mission on which you are about to embark. Dreams have power. They too are unleashed through storytelling. Story is how we express our thoughts and emotions. Story is the foundation of innovation, creativity and passion.

You have a story. Then again, you already knew that. There is a story in your graduation. There are stories in the Process of your education. There are stories in the Purpose of your education. You have overcome and struggled in order to graduate. You spent many late nights studying for exams, creating the perfect paper and passing final exams that seemed like they were written by a sleep deprived professor who still has not discovered the wonders of 5 hour energy drinks. You invested time to travel to and from school; perhaps after and/or before work in a beater car manufactured in the last century and driven my a family member into the ground only to be resurrected and sold to you since they didn’t get enough of a cash payout from Car Max. You worried about, begged, borrowed and stole to make your tuition payments. You balanced job, family, friends and school. You have faced down adversity and have accomplished something amazing.

You have a story to tell. Shout it from the podcast mountain tops, Post it. Tweet it. Blog it. Gram it.

My story and your story can only see the light of day if we choose to share our tales. Today, as you reminisce and celebrate share the tales of how you got to where you are right at this moment.

Share your stories of HOW you have survived the rigors of college. Share your stories of HOW you developed perseverance and character through the acquisition of a desired degree. Share your stories of HOW you triumphed in the face of adversity. You have earned those podiums.

The future, beyond this afternoon, as your become Alumni of Argosy University, is a story full of dreams, “could bes” and “want to bes.” You went to school for a reason. You have a purpose for your education. A plan. A dream.

Being on the threshold of memory and dream is an extremely thrilling and exciting place to be. Thrilling and exciting is a combination of just enough fear and happiness. Thrilling and exciting are experienced as we think of the challenges ahead, as we ponder the success that leads to our projected happiness while we anticipate and prepare for possible anxiety and saddens of falling short of our goals.

One either embraces thrilling and exciting through story telling or avoids these emotions by keeping the story of past conquests and future battles hidden, deep in a dark place of the soul.

My graduation was dripping with thrilling and exciting. I had a reason, a dream for returning to school. I overcame and preserved much while in school. There still are many dreams to be realized.

It is easier to keep my stories of perseverance and plans for a future not yet realized to myself. Yet, faith in me, my skills, talents, dreams and life lessons already tallied means that I believe in me and a future not guaranteed. Faith generates hope. And hope is the rocket fuel for motivation needed to accomplish amazing things.

We nurture faith through telling our life stories. As you share your stories with your family and friends, you confirm, in the depths of your own mind, that you have faith in your skills, talents, newly minted education and yourself. That faith fuels hope. Hope fuels innovation, creativity and accomplishment. Share your story of your life beyond Argosy, your dreams for the future with all who will listen today, tomorrow and each day after that.

Today is the end of a chapter. A chapter full of memories of perseverance and overcoming adversity. Today is also the beginning of a new chapter. A chapter full of dreams and hopes. Today is magical.  Drink it in. Soak it up. Document it! Tell YOUR STORY.

Thick Skulled Pumpkin

wpid-20141030_213037.jpgI almost gave up caring this thick skulled, albino pumpkin. Almost.

I almost yelled at my kid for being dumb enough to pick an thick-shulled albino pumpkin and not a normal pumpkin. Almost.

And I know. I can be a fucking asshole.

Why take out MY lack of problem solving tolerance, happiness and joy on my poor kid whose only issues is that he picked out a odd, albino pumpkin from a sea of orange. He was proud of his find. Proud of his break for conformity. If anyone would celebrate a break from conformity, it would be me. Yet, I am wallowing in self-pity for only recently giving into conformity, power and pride. I am drowning in a sea of self-pity that my dreams have not yet come true.

I am as thick skulled and off-color as this fucking albino pumpkin at times.

I told my son, “there is no way we are going to get this thing carved.”

After a day of solving problems I didn’t need one more problem, puzzle, riddle or challenge. Enough already. I just wanted the carving to be smooth, no complications, no need to exercise the three pounds of grey matter that is melting inside of my thick skull.

No such luck. I never have that luck. Breath. Solve the problem. Try to be happy. Try to feel something over than rage. Assist your child. Help your child see his unique selection through to it’s final destination: all a’ glow on the porch on October 31st.