Hi All -
Last week I had planned on publishing “February Stuff” - an issue filled with plenty of fun facts to deliver a healthy dose of joy and delight to your inbox. But Putin attacked Ukraine and like many of you, I was saddened, shocked, and angry over the news. Suddenly my light-hearted article felt very tone deaf in the current environment.
In the past week, it’s been hard to read and watch the news about Ukraine without tearing up. I’ve definitely been “feeling all of the feels.” My sweet cleaner Solomiia is Ukrainian and hearing first-hand what her family and community is going through is, well, heartbreaking.
I know I’m not alone in how I’m feeling. But it made me curious about these big emotions and the best language to use to describe them. We’re not well equipped to identify how we’re feeling or talk about our feelings… unless its with a professional nudging us. In general, most people can only name three emotions - mad, sad, and glad. Even Pixar’s brilliant film Inside Out only included five emotions - joy, sadness, anger, fear, and disgust. Imagine trying to describe a painting that has a full spectrum of colors but only knowing red, blue, and yellow. It would be tough!
Thankfully Brené Brown’s latest book, Atlas of the Heart, maps eighty-seven different emotions and was where I turned to for guidance. There are two key emotions that are core to sharing the human experience - compassion and empathy.
According to Brené, Compassion is the daily practice of recognizing and accepting our shared humanity so that we treat ourselves and others with loving-kindness, and we take action in the face of suffering. The key part of Compassion is that includes action. It’s not just feeling, it’s doing something. In the past week, I’ve seen Compassion come out in full force. From marches in solidarity around the world, to names big and small contributing to relief efforts, it’s amazing to see the collective join together in support of Ukrainians. Through compassion we’re able to show each other what love (not war) looks like.
If you’re looking for ways to take action and want to lead with compassion, here is a list of vetted resources:
Starting tomorrow at noon, a group of interior designers from the UK have teamed up to raise money for Choose Love’s Ukrainian Crisis Fundraiser. You can see the full list of available items here. I have my eye on the Chiara Perano “Peace” Print above.
As a way of getting donations into the country quickly, people are booking Airbnbs in cities across Ukraine. Airbnb has waived the guest and host fees on bookings so the rental fees go directly to the Ukrainian hosts and Airbnb.org is also offering free, short-term housing for refugees fleeing Ukraine.
Renowned chef José Andrés and his World Central Kitchen crew are on the ground providing meals to thousands of people in Ukraine as well as refugees and volunteers at the borders of neighboring countries like Poland and Romania.
It’s estimated that approximately 4 million Ukrainians will flee the country. The International Rescue Committee is one of the top organizations that helps individuals and families who are displaced to resettle.
The U.N.’s High Commissioner for Refugees focuses on providing health care, legal assistance, on-the-ground care, and other forms of support. In particular, the United Nations is being called on to help African refugees who are experiencing widespread racism when trying to leave Ukraine.
Compassion is a daily practice, and when we expand on it we get empathy. Compassion and Empathy are often confused because of how nuanced they are. Put simply Empathy is the most powerful tool of compassion and is an emotional skill set that allows us to understand what someone is experiencing and to reflect back that understanding. “But how can I be empathic with someone if I haven’t had their experience?” Great question! I haven’t lived through a geo-political conflict or had to flee my home, but that’s okay because empathy is not about relating to an experience. It’s about connecting to what someone is feeling about an experience whether that be grief, sadness, love, hurt, anger, joy etc.
Put another way, empathy is not walking in someone else’s shoes. Rather than walking in their shoes, we need to learn how to listen to the story they tell about what it’s like in their shoes and believe them even when it doesn’t match our experiences. For example if someone is feeling lonely, empathy doesn’t require us to feel lonely too, only that we reach back into our own experience with loneliness so we can understand and connect. Because empathy requires us to connect on the deepest level it results in the most meaningful human connections and fosters unity.
In a situation like this, it’s easy to have sympathy for the people of Ukraine. But sympathy is actually the opposite of empathy. Instead of being a tool for connection, sympathy is a form of disconnection. When someone says “I feel sorry for you” or “you poor thing” how does that make you feel? Personally, it doesn’t make me feel great. By choosing to be sympathetic towards a person, you’re communicating that “while I feel sorry for you, that would never happen to me, and I can’t relate.” You are putting distance between what that person is experiencing and yourself and communicating that these things don’t happen to you or people like you. I had never considered sympathy to be a cold response, but now knowing the differences between compassion, empathy and sympathy, it’s clear.
By having more compassion and empathy, we’re able to lead with love and improve the overall human experience. If anything, this past week has reminded me just how powerful the human spirit is and what can be achieved when we support one another. I don’t know how long this conflict will last, but I know that ultimately we will prevail.
“When the power of love overcomes the love of power the world will know peace”
- Jimi Hendrix