What if Donald Trump Had Empathy?

Donald Trump has proven over and over that he is incapable of empathy. Being called upon to relate to the pain of another person is like asking a toddler to drive a space shuttle.  He CANNOT do it. For him, every experience is a mirror— he is always, always assessing himself to bolster a very brittle ego. This explains his obsession with the number of people at his inauguration, the popular vote count, etc.

His response to Hurricane Maria made this empathy deficit abundantly clear, and it has done great damage. Below are some actual quotes from Trump, followed by what might have been said by someone capable of empathy:

Trump: “You’ve thrown our budget a little out of whack”

If Trump had empathy: Whatever it takes, Puerto Rico, we are there for you. We will get you the aid you need. We will help you rebuild. Your problems are our problems—you are not alone.

Trump: “I know you appreciate our support because our country has really gone all out to help”

If Trump had empathy: I know you are frustrated. I know you are scared and feel abandoned. But the US looks out for its citizens. My promise to you: we will not let you down. We will get you the food, water, medicines, and other supplies, and we will find a way to reach those who are isolated. We are Americans. We do not abandon our own.

Trump: “Such poor leadership ability by the Mayor of San Juan, and others in Puerto Rico, who are not able to get their workers to help”

If Trump had empathy: Mayor Carmen Yulin Cruz has been fighting for you. She has let me know what you need and I am grateful for that. She will not let you be forgotten. And I promise you this: neither will I.

Trump: “We’ve only heard ‘thank yous’ from the people of Puerto Rico,” he said. “It is something I enjoyed very much today.”

If Trump had empathy: When I look into your eyes, I see strength. I see resilience. This is what will get you through the next difficult months. I cannot take away your pain, but we promise we will help you rebuild. Puerto Rico will emerge stronger than ever.

Trump: “What’s happened in terms of recovery, in terms of saving lives – 16 lives that’s a lot – but if you compare that to the thousands of people who died in other hurricanes that frankly were not nearly as severe”

If Trump had empathy: I mourn with you. I feel your sorrow at the loss of your loved ones. Every life is precious, and this disaster touched each of you in a devastating way. You will recover, but it will be a hard, trying journey, perhaps made easier because you KNOW are not alone. We are with you, Puerto Rico. We are with you.

As we hear of the continued anguish in Puerto Rico, we must demand that other leaders in Washington step up. We cannot leave them without food, water, and the tools needed to rebuild. We must NOT let the suicide rate on this island continue to rise.

We must give them hope. They are a resilient people, but even the strongest among us needs help at times. If our president cannot send this message then we must:

We are with you, Puerto Rico. We are with you.

Sharing is Caring: 4 Ways How Helping Others Can Improve Your Own Life

To this day many people prefer taking, rather than giving. They are always asking life for more, wondering what more they can achieve, get and experience.

But turns out that giving is not just more important than taking, not just what we – as humans – should naturally be inclined to, but also the thing that gives us true satisfaction and can improve own life.

Without having tried it, however, there’s no chance you can know what the real benefits are.

There are many ways in which helping others, sharing, caring, giving what you can, doing good deeds, etc. can make you a better person and help other people too, while making the world more peaceful.

In case you want to live better and also contribute beyond yourself, here’s how helping others can turn your whole life around:

1. A sense of purpose

Let’s admit it. We’re all looking for meaning in life.

Often, focused only on ourselves and living the daily life, we forget there’s more behind all this.

There’s purpose beyond materialistic possessions, reaching our goals in life, getting a new job, finding the right partner, or else.

When you start doing more for others, and less for yourself, you receive more than you can imagine.

You find meaning in your life if you decide to volunteer, or to just be a better person and always help when you can.

So if you still haven’t found true meaning in your life, ask yourself what you can do today to help someone in need, or to show somebody that you care.

2. Volunteer, and you’ll be happy and healthy

According to a report by Harvard Health Publications, volunteering and the level of happiness and health in people’s lives are closely related. Let’s break this down.

For a start, when you join a volunteering organization, you’re part of a community, you feel like you belong. You’re taking part in something bigger than you, and it makes you smile and be truly grateful.

You start feeling good about yourself, and often can’t even describe it to others in your life. There’s nothing selfish about it, and you don’t even need to talk about it. It’s this feeling of contentment, where you don’t need to change anything, or to ask life for more, you just help others and feel happier day after day. What’s more, it’s great for the mind, body and soul too.

It’s one of the most natural stress, depression, loneliness and anxiety relievers. No need for medicine, spiritual practices, special programs, or else. You just need to go out there and start helping people.

It’s a therapy for the soul to see those in need smiling because of what you’re doing. And that makes you sleep better at night, feel good about yourself, and your other problems you thought you had in life don’t seem like a big deal now.

3. Doing good can help your professional life

You won’t be helping others with the goal of exceeding in your career, of course, but it will increase your chances of landing a job a lot, as a government study suggests.

How does this happen?

Well, turns out the skills you build while volunteering make you a better candidate for employers. It lets you explore new fields too, and you acquire knowledge at the same time. Then, you can easily put these into practice in whatever career you pursue.

What’s more, if you’re determined to excel at this, there are plenty of volunteering programs that offer further training. Things like that look good on your CV too, show that you care about the community, are open to side projects, and know how to work with other people.

Once you give it a try, you’ll end up becoming a better communicator, understand the real meaning of teamwork, will somehow start brainstorming ideas and solve problems more creatively, will be managing your time better and thus become more organized.

When all these are first experienced at an unpaid position, where no one expects you to do your best and there’s no pressure from superiors, you learn the skills necessary to move to the top of your career in the future, even before you’ve started a job in the field.

4. You build relationships

You know networking is crucial for your success in life and in business. Well, helping others can help you with that too. First of all, you’re connecting with people in a more meaningful way than usual when you’re doing good for the sake of making their life better. That’s the social aspect and it also gives you fulfillment and makes you feel great.

But you also meet other people doing the same, potential employers, influencers, and more. This expands your network and you can never know what opportunity will come out of this.

At the same time, you’re feeling more confident and comfortable around new people and let go of social anxiety. That lets you make friends too, which will stay in your life even when you’re not doing this anymore.

Once you land a new job, or open a new chapter in your life, socializing and putting yourself out there won’t scare you. You’ll be free to approach new people, and will effortlessly communicate without fear of rejection or wondering what to say.

In a nutshell, helping others is one of the most profitable, practical and satisfying things you can do with your life. And it doesn’t need to be big. You can complete smalls tasks or join a community that cares for a cause you’re passionate about.

Let’s Talk About Burnout, Compassion Fatigue and Vicarious Trauma

Helping professionals do an excellent job of breaking down the stigma surrounding mental illness. However, when we look in the mirror, we are not quite as good at applying those same stigma-fighting and self-compassion principles. There is a tendency for helpers to place the needs of others above their own needs.

We will fight incredibly hard to help others enjoy peace, health, and their human rights, but in order to do so we often compromise our own peace, health, and human rights. We spend our working days carefully listening to the needs of others, deaf to the screams of our own hearts and bodies. Ashamed of the humanness that has prevented us from living up to the SuperHero image of helping professionals, we are wary of sharing our own stories.

Unwilling to share our vulnerable selves, the stories we do release for public consumption are often so heavily edited the end result resembles little more than a “once upon a time” fairytale. Let’s not contribute to the all-too-common fairytales about what it’s like to work as a helping professional. Instead, let’s talk about how it really feels to face the darkest corners of human life (and death).

Let’s talk about burnout, Compassion Fatigue, and Vicarious Trauma.

If we don’t, they will become the bogeymen that consume us. My own story of Vicarious Trauma began suddenly in 2006 when I was working as a Child Protection Officer. My ears and eyes were filled with the sounds and images of broken babies. My hands were filled with paperwork and my head was too full, too busy, to do anything except meet the deadlines that came thick and fast from all directions. The bogeyman that bit into me refused to let go and evolved into a full-blown eating disorder.

From 2008 to 2011, I was hospitalised twice and worked hard to heal my body. From 2012 to 2016, I worked hard to find the words I’d buried, match them with feelings, piece it all together and also work up the courage to share my precious story with strangers.

Without a doubt, the research and writing I undertook during those four years were the most agonising and significant steps I took toward recovery. I began by researching anorexia. Up until my mid twenties, I’d enjoyed healthy eating patterns and body image. How was it possible for such a person to suddenly stop eating? I started with the book “Eating Disorders in Adult Women” (edited by Julian Fuchs, 2008) and moved on to the wealth of research from Steven Levenkron.

There were many references to eating disorders stemming from Trauma, but I rejected the theory that my eating disorder was the result of this. Trauma was, I told myself, something that happened to survivors of war or whose lives had been threatened under the most horrific of circumstances. I refused to minimise the awfulness of their experience by including myself within their number.

Perhaps what happened to me was “just burnout”. I pulled out Christina Maslach and referred to her extensive research on the topic. Her descriptions of burnout were familiar but didn’t quite fit my symptoms. Again, there were plenty of references to Trauma. Fine. I piled my bedside table with all the classics on Trauma – Judith Herman, Peter Levine, Babette Rothschild – never believing I’d find myself living within their pages. I did. I knew about Trauma, of course. I’d learned the basics at university and had applied the theories when working with clients who’d experienced domestic violence, sexual assault, or childhood abuse.

Reading these books was a completely different experience and everything I thought I knew about Trauma was turned on its head. I read the theories as if I were reading them for the first time. Now, I didn’t just understand the words, I felt them and knew them to be true. Since releasing “Selfless: a social worker’s own story of trauma and recovery” I’ve been privileged to hear many people tell me about their own experiences of burnout, Compassion Fatigue, and Trauma.

It’s been wonderful to be part of this burgeoning web of storytelling and it has strengthened me more than I ever thought possible. It’s my dearest wish that my book will start a conversation about how to improve the support we provide to our frontline helping professionals. There is so much more that can be done. Let’s show how much value we place on the essential services they provide.

6 Brilliant Tips to Add Value to Your Personality

When it comes to any social group, people usually have their respective roles like the popular one, the weird one, the funny one and the awkward one. It’s all because of the differences in behaviors, personalities and distinctive qualities that sets us apart. That also defines who we are, how we act in a social gathering and whom we connect and make friendships. But, it’s a fact that we want what we don’t have; whether it’s something tangible, a connection or an association or a personality trait that makes someone stand out in the crowd.

Here, in this article, I’m going to give 6 advice tips that can help to add value to your personality.

1. Know Who You’re & What You Want to Be

The first and the foremost step is to find out who you are and what you want to be. No one else knows us better than our own self. You have to list it down the qualities that you wish to change or what you’d like see as an improvement. It’s only “YOU” who can add or subtract those qualities to get the desired personality. ‘Desire to change yourself’ is the primary step and then comes the assessment.

2. Take Action to Make a Change

It’s the stage where we identify particular areas that needs improvement. Never make excuses and stay committed to take action. A lot of people fail at this stage as they don’t embrace chance and ready to take action.

For instance, if you really want to see change in your interpersonal connections, then the cycle starts as; spot someone or something you’re unhappy with, beat yourself up about it, just don’t think about not having what you want but do something, distract yourself from the negativity and move one.

3. Stop Comparing Yourself to Others

When it comes to the people in quest of self-improvement; they tend to focus on what they don’t have what they want to achieve. Never compare yourself to others as it will drag you down a dark path. Try to focus on the best parts of ‘YOU’. Every one of us different from other; every person has some unique characteristics. You just need to discover what you have to offer instead of comparing yourself to others.

4. Accept Your Personality Type

As a matter of fact, every personality type has its own strengths and weaknesses. For-example, introverts are good listeners, analytical, kind and self-sacrificing. On the other hand, extroverts are talkative, fun-loving, relationship-driven and engaging. So, it’s your personality that makes you who you’re in-person. Never try to become a person who you’re not, but instead try to enhance qualities you have to offer in friendships and relationships.

5. Empathize with Others

Extroverts have a lot of empathy. They are not just interested in themselves and how they see the world, but they want to know your option as well. They are open and love to share their opinions, but also want to hear from you. Such individuals are not selfish or self-centered (personality traits that often seen as faults). If you find such traits in your personality, start right from there.

6. Try to Add Positivity & Depth to Your Interactions

When it comes to likable people, they never take themselves too seriously. They know the world is a big place and everyone has his/her own views; their viewpoint on life isn’t be-all, end-all. So, take a deep breath, get ready, exhale the negativity, stress or anything that is bothering you. Tomorrow is another day and bad times shall pass too. Don’t take life too seriously and always start a new day with a positive energy.

White Nationalism and The Co-Opting of Fear

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It used to be easy. The label of racist, sexist, or homophobic was a silencer on the weapon of the tongue. When a person stated views that were out of the politically correct spectrum, they paid a price professionally and publicly. However, with the rise of Donald Trump as the Republican nominee, there no longer appears to be a price for publicly embracing racist language and ideals.

Many have suggested the real problem, White Supremacy–that overt hatred for any non-white people–was institutionalized and invisible. White supremacy was lumped into the institutional mix with discrimination, prejudice, and inequality. Our policies, beginning with the civil rights act of 1964, set a precedent for addressing the institutional barriers to minorities. By 1988, the United States was addressing the individual white supremacist with censorship. But, silencing a sentiment has only resulted in the search for a new voice.

It has long been the recruitment tactic of white supremacist groups to focus on fears spawned by whatever “other” was present in a certain region. On the frontier west, the other was the Native American. In the cities, the other was the Blacks. In the southern-western border, the other was the Mexicans. But, something happened on a Tuesday night in November 2008, the worst fear came into the homes of many who had previously been silenced. It was no longer just a generalized fear of the other. It was the removal of an iconic White institution handed to a non-white. The fear moved from being offensive (in both ways) to being defensive, even despairing. Recruitment was no longer to mobilize. It was to defend against the further collapse of the Real America. Fear of the other became fear for the loss of a (White) way of life.

Empathy & Choice Architecture
The co-opting of fear changes the White Supremacist into the White Nationalist. The White Nationalist is not an institutionally-supported purveyor of hatred toward another race or creed. The white nationalist is a genuinely concerned individual who desires the best for his children and his people. Even if you are shouting for rights against the establishment, you are now the only one shouting. The rhetorical technique of the white nationalist is to claim victimization. And guess what, empathy demands that we listen.

This could be one reason for the inadequacy of our categorizations these days. The simple determination of whether a person is racist, sexist, or homophobic was never adequate as a basis for tolerance and appreciation of diversity. But, it worked in an institutional context to describe policies that systematically discriminated against specific groups based on some ethnocentric ideal.

As the unit of analysis moves to the level of the individual, categorizations will not be useful. Each individual is unique which comes with a unique set of concerns. Having children or not, levels of education, life goals, family connectedness, and a host of other characteristics form the profile of each person. Their choice architecture is built from this individualized profile, in the context of their immediate and social environment, impacted by the interactive effects that form their perception of self and the reality in which they live.

The good news is that we can mathematically map this complexity in operational research. Those may be two words that you are not comfortable applying to social science issues or social activism, but math and research are critical to interventions that promote dignity and worth of each person. It is more evident now that labeling the oppressor and demonizing the group runs counter to progress. What we have missed is that the need has shifted from the institutional level to individual level in the co-opting of fear.

The Empathy Standard
Let us first begin with a clear understanding of empathy. Empathy is defined as an ability to feel as the other feels. It is often distinguished from sympathy, which is to feel for a person. Empathy is more holistically to be distinguished from prejudices. Prejudices are characteristic means of self-protection or self-defense. More holistically, empathy is the ability to see the choices of the other as reasonable.

This definition allows social workers to work with clients whose behaviors have proven reprehensible while valuing the dignity and worth of each person. Even more importantly, this definition of empathy enables social workers to track the mechanism employed in the choice behavior. Once the mechanism is understood, the decision points can be disrupted with new information, intervention, influence, or insight. The disruption offers an expanded choice set and may result in new behaviors.

Without empathy-inspired dialogue on a topic, prejudices turn to anger and an insistence on being heard. Without empathy expect violence, disrespect, and self-promotion over others as less-than.

The Co-Opting of Fear
Which is more powerful, hatred or fear? Hatred can motivate many intentional destruction of things that are disliked. But, fear creates more things to rail against from imagined visions of even unreasonable things that may be. Supremacy groups have long used fear as a way to recruit new members. This was more of an institutional approach that reached out to individuals. It provided a target for the generalized sense of despair and hopelessness felt by the impoverished. It galvanized and educated that generalized sense into a frenzy of hate. That was the utilization of fear.

Utilization of fear was defined by Lyndon B. Johnson in 1960:
“If you can convince the lowest white man he’s better than the best colored man, he won’t notice you’re picking his pocket. Hell, give him somebody to look down on, and he’ll empty his pockets for you.” LYNDON B. JOHNSON, 1960, remark to Bill Moyers, “What a Real President Was Like,” Washington Post, 13 November 1988

We see the results in a speech by Hillary Clinton. It typically takes some version of the following form:

Let’s be honest, for a lot of well-meaning, open-minded white people, the sight of a young black man in a hoodie still evokes a twinge of fear. And news reports that poverty, crime, and discrimination evoke sympathy, even empathy, but too rarely do they spur us to action or prompt us to question our own assumptions and privilege (June 20, 2015 speech to US Conference of Mayors).

The problem is that we, as social activists or individual citizens, have not fully understood the fallacy of that “twinge of fear.” This lack of understanding is what Jeb Bush is saying he wants to work against, “I don’t think Barack Obama has bad motives,” He said on the debut of the Late Show with Stephen Colbert, “We have to restore a degree of civility.” Bush should have stopped there.

The co-opting of fear means that you are no longer dealing with institutional “other sides” of any argument or system failings. The interactions are now personal. Many in the Colbert audience noted the shift. Immediately after Jeb Bush uttered “I don’t think Barack Obama has bad motives,” a few in the audience began applause. Bush continued before the applause took hold finishing with, “I just think he’s wrong on a lot of issues.” The applause stifled. Bush turned what sounded like a conciliatory, constructive tone into a personal attack almost immediately. He could have talked about “his policies,” or better “I disagree with the Affordable Care Act,” or even better, “The Affordable Care Act has 12 provisions that limit patient choice.” In a policy discussion, the policy should reasonably be central, not the individual discussants.

Over years of political correctness, hidden resentment, and what Elisabeth Young-Bruehl calls psychologizing-sociology rhetoric has moved to individual characterization. Fear generalized at the institutional level has moved and morphed into fear personified at the individual level. The co-opting of fear has reduced policy failures to personal failures. Governance has been reduced from a sociological construct to the “liking” of one personality over another. Speaking your mind and refusing the politically-correct response is heralded as honesty and courage however ignorant and erroneous. A quick example can be shown in polls. According to a CNN poll back in 2013, 46% of people asked were against Obamacare. Only 37% were opposed to the Affordable Care Act. Same law. But, reducing policy to a “do you like this person” question creates different choice behavior.

This causes a fundamental shift in the way we work to support tolerance and move toward the celebration of difference. No longer are people simply misinformed and their generalized sense manipulated by the institution. Many are now genuinely, and individually fearful for their livelihoods, their children’s opportunity, and their freedom. Imagined or not, this new reality does not respond to institutional changes. In fact, the institutional actions to level the playing field and erase the majority advantage are seen as further disenfranchising the individual.

The Empathetic Solution

Now, that reality is individual rather than institutional, the only solution is empathy. It is to see the complaints of each individual as valid and worthy of our attention. The empathy solution ensures that each individual is heard. It maps their process of reason, and compares their experience to what our policies intended. Without this empathetic analysis, by denying the voice of those who perceive themselves to be eventual minorities, we others become oppressors. People who feel silenced and who fear extinction will revolt in discontent.

They will rally behind someone successful who speaks the fear, gloom, and despair that they feel. And, others will support this movement. Their support is not because they know the origins of supremacy and ethnocentrism that birth the movement. They support because they are empathetic to–they see as reasonable–the cries of people who have been silenced and hushed because their views were not politically correct. They support because they are tired of having to clean up their language to express overreaches and erroneous implementations of laws meant to create equality. Empathy, my fellow social workers, is not based on our agreement with the other. It is our ability to see their reason and continue the often uncomfortable conversation toward a comfortable resolution.

The Spiritual Social Worker: May Your Spirits Guide You

You probably became a social worker because of something personal that happened in your life. I remember starting my social work education and meeting my fellow students. At the introduction, they told their stories about having a difficult childhood, having a disabled brother, parents with addiction and so on.

IMG_4109We dreamed of being a social worker to help others who are facing the same problems. We were super motivated, young and willing to change the world. But, then our teachers told us that we only can help heal others if we first heal ourselves. They invited us to tell our stories, to share our personal pain, and as we now know healing starts with sharing.

My own story is about a difficult relation with my parents as I was not the daughter they would like me to be. I was rebellious and my parents got desperate. At one point, my father told me he wished I had never been born. In that moment, there was only one way to survive which helped me to develop a very strong belief in myself. It felt as if I was on my own and I had to give myself a happy childhood. And I did!

Becoming a social worker was another step in my healing. I learned to receive friendship and love, and I learned how to be vulnerable while at the same time still feeling this strong belief in myself. I was able to feel a deep compassion and build strong relationships with my clients who trusted me. This made me not only a good and qualified social worker but also a spiritual social worker.

Now I’ve started a new episode in my spiritual journey. I’m connecting our Social Souls to build a strong community of social workers who really want to make change happen. In this community, we still share our stories and support each other on our journey. It’s a safe haven where you can work on your dreams feeling connected and supported.

This is my story, and I’m sure you have your own story. You are walking your own spiritual path, and it may sometimes feel hard to follow in order to hold on to your dreams. When things get difficult, you’ll feel your own pain again. That’s okay. It’s a part of your path. It reminds you of the place you came from. It makes you human and humble. But, also remember how this made you strong, but you must be sure to keep walking. May your spirits guide you 

If this speaks to you, you’re very welcome to join my our community.

Child Criminals are Victims Twice Over

The arrest of 12 and 13 year old boys for aggravated robbery and murder respectively in West Auckland a couple of weeks ago highlights a growing malaise in society. The incident itself is a tragedy for the victim and his family, but what is alarming to me is that the two offending boys are victims too — of whatever circumstances led them to offend and now, potentially, of the justice system as well.

The bi-polarity of the justice system, which recognises only victim and offender, clearly fails children in these situations. The stories of those like twelve-year-old Bailey Kurariki (NZ 2001), James Bulger’s ten-year-old killers (UK 1993) and eleven-year-old Mary Bell (UK 1968), all of whom were charged and sentenced, point toward a “punishment system” that in no way takes into consideration that these children were too young to be held solely responsible for their actions.

A system that believes kids can be guilty of violent crimes without asking, “How did they become capable of violent crimes?”, is one that lacks empathy and compassion. Having empathy and compassion for the kids does not diminish feeling for the victims. It simply acknowledges the existence of complex situations that don’t follow “victim/perpetrator” patterns.

It could be easy to decide, instead, that parents are at fault, but even this logic is too simple. What we are dealing with is the result of generations of dysfunctional family systems, poverty and inequality.

Until this dynamic is acknowledged and a new system is designed to deal with it, we will see more and more children creating victims as well as being victims of their upbringing and of the justice system.

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