Empathy – Looking at Another Person’s Noise


Mirrors. I know, deep down, that everything I react and respond to – especially other people – are mirrors into my own soul.  They always tell me something about myself. And if I’m reacting, they’re probably telling me something I’d rather not own. So I react by seeing whatever’s happening as someone else’s problem. It let’s me judge and dismiss without feeling I’m really judgng and dismissing myself.

But I am.

Some every-day examples: Feeling relieved when I see the guy 2 cars ahead of me get stopped for speeding instead of me; or feeling “caught” when I see someone stopped for speeding, wondering if that person had an urgent need to get somewhere fast, and knowing what that feels like. Getting righteously angry at a young mother yelling at her child for getting lost, instead of wondering what I’d do if my child got lost and then was found, unharmed.

When I’m busy judging others, I’m also distracting myself from seeing the connection between myself and the person I’m judging. And when I do that, I disconnect not only from that other person, but from myself. It may be temporarily soothing to project my own personally intollerable imperfection onto another, but in the long run, it leaves me stationery, forever ending up in the same muddle because I’ve never honestly addressed my own issue.

We all project. It’s one of the ways we learn, and it connects us to our world. But when we project our self-judgments, we isolate ourselves from our world. Empathy cuts through that isolation by opening us up to really seeing the other as a fellow imperfect traveler.

Seth Godin calls this the noise in his head . The monologue that can at times run constantly and loudly; criticizing, judging, comparing. Projecting our self-judgments and self-criticisms onto whoever happens to be in our line of sight.

But even at it’s loudest, it is possible to override it; to recognize it for what it is, and to use this knowing to reach out. To connect rather than to isolate. To soften to our own limitations, and see another’s with an open heart.

To look at another person’s noise and see it in ourselves.


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Maryanne Nicholls is a Registered Psychotherapist.  To find out more, gain access to her weekly newsletter, meditations and programmes, sign up at www.thejoyofliving.co .


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