As I finish this semester and reflect on this empathy exercise, I take my empathy observations to London this week. The main takeaway I observe is the acceptance of empathy is strongly shaped by our culture too. The British are often criticized as “too cold”, implying a lack of empathy towards others. On an unconscious level, one may have emotional reactions, yet one’s culture and environment may dictate the appropriateness to express these emotions. This in turn affects how empathetic one can be- I’ve noticed Americans tend to be more outgoing and engaged while British are more conservative and reserved. My partner and I talked about the ability to be empathetic by choice (beyond unconscious reaction) and it wasn’t until traveling that I noticed how important culture plays into this decision. Perhaps their acts of empathy are communicated more with action than verbally- now is that deemed more preferable? We also talked about the difficulties of reaction- culture and social norms are definitely key parts to driving this reaction and action of empathy as noticed across the pond.
As I reflect with my partner, we both discussed our experience with practicing empathy- whether it is unconscious physical reactions to our environmental situations or emotional responses in reflecting on certain previous experiences/global news. We agreed that our main takeaway from this ongoing exercise is a growth in interpreting and reacting to situations on a variety of levels (physical, emotional, spiritual).I have been conscious about my reactions to immediate situations as well as my reactions to others’ reactions to events and experiences (which oftentimes influences and biases my interpretation). My reactions are often biased, which I recognize. My biggest goal from this exercise is to continue practicing unbiased empathy. This certainly has been difficult given the recent global news, but it is certainly a challenge for me which has caused me to open my perspective and understand all perspectives (not be quick to judge).
This week I had a conversation with a friend who was been working at company X for the past two years. While it was lovely to catch up with her, I was surprised by how much she defined herself by the place she was working at. She would refer to herself as a “company name-ee” and talk about the firm in almost a cultish way. What I found interesting was she would talk about her friends working at other firms, and her body language would suggest that those firms were not on par as the one she was at. It made me wonder how much my behavior was shaped by my associations. In a way, I reflected on myself and the labels I’ve accrued (“Middkid”, etc). Do they create a barrier and implicit judgement on others who do not fit those labels?
Mindfulness– “a state of active, open attention on the present. When you’re mindful, you observe your thoughts and feelings from a distance, without judgement. Instead of letting your life pass you by, mindfulness means living in the moment and awakening to experience.”
I’m the type of person to have my live planned out, which adds a lot of stress to me. I’ve been working on being mindful this semester, and it has been a great experience. Absorbing my experiences without worriment and judgement has also made me open to more experiences, ultimately allowing me to step outside my normal habits and comfort zone. Join me in being more mindful as we reflect on our experiences with people day to day.
Yesterday, I had to deliver a group presentation in my class with three other people. Usually, I’m pretty comfortable with my actions when I talk with peers and my professors. I noticed that yesterday when all attention is directed on me during a presentation, I tend to clam up…which is natural. I tried something different yesterday- I took ten seconds before the presentation to “ground myself”. Meaning, I stood in front of the room and consciously slowed my breathing and relaxed my muscles. Then, I scanned the room and tried to make eye contact with everyone to get a sense of who I was presenting to. This ten second act really helped me deliver a better presentation because I was present and had an easier time relating to the audience, and I encourage you all to do the same.
My friend asked me this question, and I had a hard time coming up with an answer. Oftentimes, we are so engrossed in activities (sports, extracurriculars, what’s the “right” activity to do to get to xyz) that we forget what makes us tick/what our passions are. Now what happens if our plans get disrupted? You get rejected from your dream job/partner or you don’t end up where you think you should be. What would you do amidst failure? I thought about her question for a long time, and eventually realized the answer for me is to pursue what I really love even if failure may occur or does occur. But with failure, Victor Hugo once wrote: “Change your opinions, keep to your principles; change your leaves, keep intact your roots.” Even as we grow and mature, and fail, we ought to keep our core strong and learn from our mistakes.
I drove down this weekend to visit my family in Boston for break. It was so nice to see my parents again, and I was able to talk with them about school and life beyond Middlebury. Talking with my mom really helped me grasp a different perspective and think beyond the stresses within the Middlebury Bubble. It’s so important to take a step back because oftentimes you lose sight of the macro picture of life. Oftentimes we focus on the negative, but it is just as important to focus on what we’re grateful for (we take those for granted). Now I’m practicing waking up every day and thinking about one thing I’m grateful for that day. It really helps to live me to live in the present and enjoy the small moments, especially when interacting and responding to others’ actions and thoughts.
This past homecoming weekend my friend and I hosted several alums from the class of 1994. We decided to take them around some parties to show them what the current social scene is like at Midd. It was so interesting to observe their reactions as they walked around the parties- mostly filled with confusion and disbelief. It reminded me of my first few weeks at Middlebury, where I’m sure I had the same reactions. It made me reflect on how these experiences are now considered the “norm” and how I’ve become numb to them.
One of the most common advice I get when interviewing is “Just be yourself”. It seems simple, right? I had an interview this past week and it was so interesting to be hyper aware of my actions and how I felt knowing people across the table were forming impressions of me, etc. No amount of “deep breaths” before really calms my butterflies before an interview, but one thing I did notice from this past interview is I end up mimicking their attitudes (they seemed super relaxed, so I became more casual and relaxed in my conversation as well as my tone/language). At the end of the day, these interviewers really want you to do well, and they were in your shoes before.
This past Sunday (September 27th), two friends and I ventured out to the Middlebury Organic Garden around 10:30 PM to view the “Blood Moon”. A Blood Moon refers to the reddish glow to the Moon during a Total Lunar Eclipse when the Earth casts its shadow on a Full Moon and eclipses it. We walked over to the Organic Garden in the pitch black as my friend used a flashlight to navigate us. I remember looking down at the tiny stream of light in front of me and turning around to see Bihall, which was completely lit up and beautiful- it was striking to see such a prominent man-made formation among the rolling hills and grass. Once we reached the garden, we all laid down in the grass and looked up into the sky towards the moon. I was in awe of all the stars I saw, and it made me reflect on how lucky we are to go to school in Middlebury, Vermont where we are removed from “city life” and how we can experience nature without distractions or light pollution. I spent some time closing my eyes and slowly began to notice the ample amount of noise generated by our surrounding, even though my friends and I were completely silent: a brisk breeze running through the bushes, the leaves crinkling, slow “coos” from two birds. I encourage you all to observe and take in nature’s beauty, as our environment is also full of life and energy.