Memorial Day: Give Thanks and Have Empathy

Memorial Day: Give Thanks and Have Empathy

It’s Memorial Day, 2016.  Today many will visit gravesites and attend services to honor our service men and women who served and gave it all, as well as those still with us and even serving today.  I hope our veterans and service men and women feel honored today.  I hope they feel appreciated by the masses who cannot begin to understand what they have faced – or at least been willing to face – on our behalf.

Last week I attended a continuing education class created to help mediators work with participants suffering from PTSD – veterans specifically. Simple tips were given to help a PTSD sufferer stay calm during mediation:

  • Give options/ empower: Including physical setting; timing; and of course decision making
  • Explain what’s happening, why, and set clear expectations
  • Pay attention to signs of potential distress: Ask if there is anything he/she needs; offer a break, a change of scenery, or maybe more information…

As I listened to the instructor, I thought about how closely aligned the tips were with demonstrating emotional intelligence.  I was struck, once again, with the reality of how important self awareness and empathy for others are – in all that we do!

A little more than five years ago I had an epiphany while pushing a cart through a Target store.  I was feeling traumatized, uncertain, unsteady, and moving very slowly.  At one point I realized I wasn’t moving at all. I was just standing in a daze, in the middle of the main walkway.  I looked at the people moving around me – it felt like I was watching a movie in slow motion.  I remember there was a young mother snapping at her little boy; three teenage girls laughing and teasing each other; and an older couple holding hands.  There was a lot of noise, but I couldn’t hear anything specific.

It was probably less than 30 seconds I stood there, paralyzed by a combination of exhaustion, fear, chaos, and a feeling of being all alone. I sensed I was teetering between collapsing into a puddle of tears and screaming irrationally, but I just stood. As I did, I wondered:

How many of you have seen things you can never un-see? Experienced trauma the rest of us can’t understand? Who is about to get that call – the one that will change your life forever? Who is in the midst of its aftermath, like me, right now? Who has found their way to a new normal?”

Then came the epiphany… I have no way to know, or understand, what anyone else is dealing with at any given time.  Because of this, I have no right to judge and no reason to get upset or irritated with a stranger’s behavior.

In that moment, standing in that crowded Target store, I became a much more empathetic person. “Don’t sweat the small stuff” took on a whole new meaning for me.  When cars cut me off, instead of calling the driver a jerk, I hope everything is OK in his world. When the sales clerk is distracted and taking way too long to ring up my sale, I wonder what she might be dealing with and wish her well.  As a result, my stress level stays “way low” and I’m generally a much happier person – which is awesome because I was already pretty generally happy!

Five years ago I got a personal glimpse into what it might be like to suffer from PTSD, and I realized how many people deal with some level of trauma every-single-day. My wish on this Memorial Day is, as Americans, we offer compassion and empathy to our fellow humans. We cannot know another’s experience. It is his alone.  We can do our part to offer emotional safety and physical comfort, and extend patience for things we can’t begin understand.

Today, I wish peace and joy to our veterans and their families, passed and present. God bless you all!