The reason I bring this up is because it reminds me of something I learned as an adolescent--there is so much going on in the world around us, both near and far, of which we are totally unaware. I know it sounds somewhat simplistic, but this was an earth-shattering realization for me. It was right up there with the notion that no matter how hard I tried, I could never know everything there is to know.
This is similar to the feeling I get when I travel. Just seeing how people live in various parts of the world makes me more connected to humanity in general. Tom Freston says, "Travel early and travel often. Live abroad, if you can. Understand cultures other than your own. As your understanding of other cultures increases, you understanding of yourself and your own culture will increase exponentially." This is so true. For example, I never truly understood the structure of the English language until I took Spanish. (I had never even heard of the subjunctive case!) I think this is one reason I love to look at art. It wakes up something in me I didn't even know was asleep. It makes me feel like I am part of something much larger than myself.
As a child I moved a lot. And because I was an introvert, it was very hard on me in some ways. Every time we moved, I had to start over. I had to get to know people and let them get to know me. Fascinating, but not easy. And I discovered that most people are not especially patient with those of us who are quiet. Those who are more gregarious often look on us as though we were handicapped.
I will never forget when I was in college taking a course in educational psychology and the professor told the class that there was no difference between being shy and being an introvert. He said, "When someone claims to be 'an introvert,' (and, yes, he made quotation marks in the air) he or she is in reality just shy or immature." I guess he was just repeating something that he had read or heard. Whether it was supported by research didn't seem to matter to him, because it fit his agenda. And he truly seemed to have no understanding of the difference between the two.
According to verywell.com, "Being shy and being introverted aren't the same thing, although they may look the same. An introvert enjoys time alone and gets emotionally drained after spending a lot of time with others. A shy person doesn't necessarily want to be alone, but is afraid to interact with others." The site goes on to say that "children can be helped to overcome their shyness, but introversion is as much a part of a person as is hair or eye color. In other words, people can get therapy for shyness, but not for introversion."
I learned as the course progressed, that the instructor was big on opinion and small on knowledge... (Don't even get me started on his opinions of stereotypes!) When I look back on that class, I am reminded of Charles Schultz and these words from him: "There's a difference between a philosophy and a bumper sticker!" (Exclamation point, mine.)
I would like to think that even if I were not an introvert, I would still feel the same sense of outrage over this professor's seeming lack of empathy. There is so much hatred in the world these days directed toward those who are different in any way. It is heartbreaking. And from my perspective, I have to remind myself not to feel animosity toward this professor just because he was confused or misinformed, or, even more likely, damaged. But just as I have compassion for shy people, I must also have compassion for everyone else, especially for those who do not generate the glow of kindness in my heart.
This is difficult! In Daily Afflictions: The Agony of Being Connected to Everything in the Universe, Andrew Boyd says, “Compassion hurts. When you feel connected to everything, you also feel responsible for everything. And you cannot turn away. Your destiny is bound with the destinies of others. You must either learn to carry the Universe or be crushed by it. You must grow strong enough to love the world, yet empty enough to sit down at the same table with its worst horrors.”
Human relationships are so difficult. I find that I am always trying to get inside someone else's head, to understand, to empathize. Neil deGrasse Tuson says, "Humans aren't as good as we should be in our capacity to empathize with feelings and thoughts of others, be they humans or other animals on Earth. So maybe part of our formal education should be training in empathy. Imagine how different the world would be if, in fact, we taught reading, writing, arithmetic, and empathy."
I will close today with this: “Self-absorption in all its forms kills empathy, let alone compassion. When we focus on ourselves, our world contracts as our problems and preoccupations loom large. But when we focus on others, our world expands. Our own problems drift to the periphery of the mind and so seem smaller, and we increase our capacity for connection - or compassionate action.”--Daniel Goleman