The Importance of Empathy

In the midst of the world shutting down so that we, as a society, “flatten the curve” of the spread of the Coronavirus, rather than become depressed and lethargic, I got busy. I decided to tackle some long-term goals of mine, like weaning my 15-month old and moving her out of my bed (she is currently sleeping there now like a queen as the rest of the household tiptoes around, trying to avoid waking the little tyrant), learning sign language (I’ve got some time now, so why not pick up a language that barely anyone else understands? oh, and that is the least spoken language ever), and, arguably more manageable, putting up my Easter decorations. So how did I do?

Weaning

I have pretty much failed. In fact, my daughter must sense my weakness, and she is now demanding more boob, at all hours of every day. She screams in agony like I’ve just pulled out all of her little baby toenails, or in embarrassment like I’ve put a dreaded bow in her hair, until I stick the adored nipple in her mouth (“Either one will do, Mom, just give me one, I don’t really even care if there’s milk in it.”)

Did I mention she’s a tyrant?

Learning Sign Language

I have this dream often where I’ll watch a few videos on-line, very quickly master it, and then teach it to the members of my family without them even realizing it by just using signs throughout my day.

I’ve learned the alphabet. And how to flick people off.

My five-year old has mastered that one, too. I guess I should quit doing it in front of him.

Decorating for Easter

Ah, hah! Finally a more manageable and realistic task! I am proud to say that all of my Easter decorations were out and on display before the holiday actually happened this year. I had even bought some new ones. Like the cute bunny wreath for my front door that had adorable little white beads all over it.

However . . . as soon as I put it out, my husband and I started to notice bird poop on our front doorstep. The first time it happened, we laughed, and determined that it must mean we have good luck. We (well, my hubby, let’s be real) cleaned it up and laughed.

Until the next day, when it reappeared. Okay, so that’s a funny coincidence that it happened two days in a row. But, again, we laughed, and he cleaned.

On Day Five of poop after poop after poop, we decided that we needed to get to the bottom of this shitty mystery. When I took the tyrant out for our morning walk, We took just a short loop around the block before returning to spy on our own front door. Sure enough, there was a bird. And what was that bird doing? He was sitting on my adorable festive wreath, trying to eat the pretty white beads off of it, as bird poop dribbled out of his body onto my front step the entire time.

Mystery solved! We threw out my beloved wreath and stopped cleaning up after hungry birds every day. Unfortunately, the rest of the neighborhood could no longer enjoy my cheerful holiday decorations.

Empathy, Not Sympathy

“What do these stories have to do with anything?” you ask. Not much. I just thought that they were too funny not to share, and what else do you do when your lazy kiddos are still sleeping, and you’re forced to stay inside?

Apparently think of weird stuff and try to relate it to serious stuff.

The point is that everyone deals with stress and change in different ways. For some, like me, they take on huge, even unrealistic tasks, probably as a way to avoid the reality of what is going on in their world.

Others completely shut down, finding it hard to even get off their couches. They may show more obvious signs of depression, only changing out of their pajamas every three days when forced, losing track of day and night or the days of the week, not talking much, etc.

Both reactions can be worrisome. The concerns for the couch potatoes are more obvious. But we also have to worry about the go-getters like me who start to focus on so many new, enormous ambitions that they become disappointed and even more upset when they don’t quickly meet their (often unrealistic) goals.

Or birds keep dumping on their doorsteps as they silently sign alphabetically, “No, stop!” looking like a lunatic.

As collaborative professionals, how can we support people who are suddenly faced with divorce? (Never mind is the panic justified; it’s real!) We must understand (and empathize!) that everyone deals with traumatic stress in different ways.

Just What is Empathy You Ask?

What is empathy? Let me tell you what it’s not; it is not sympathy. It is the ability to actually 1other’s shoes, to comprehend how that specific person feels about his specific situation, to feel the same thing that that person feels.

Take, for example, my sister-in-law, Natasha. She’s a hard-ass Israeli Jewish attorney from Philly. I texted her the other day to see how she was coping with the isolation of the Coronavirus. She responded that they are presuming that she actually has the virus! We bantered back and forth about that for a bit, as we do about many things. I, as someone who was recently diagnosed with a brain tumor and who had then undergone brain surgery and radiation treatments, feel like I should at least be able to joke about serious medical situations more so than your average Josephine.

But, as we continued to go back and forth, and I cracked one Coronavirus joke after the next, Natasha’s replies became more succinct. I soon realized that she might be having a harder time with her presumed diagnosis and how it could affect her and her family than I had realized.

I felt badly about how I had reacted, no matter how hilarious, and tried, instead, to put myself in her shoes. Being diagnosed with a virus that is causing a worldwide pandemic, but not being able to be tested for it because you’re not considered “high risk,” and being quarantined while also working and shielding your family from the virus, would be stressful for anyone.

Just because I had a brain tumor didn’t mean that she didn’t have every right to be frightened about her health predicament.

What Does This Mean to You Professionally?

As a divorce professional, it’s important that you not only understand the issues implicated by the marital split, but also, the personalities of the people involved. That’s why a mental health practitioner is such a vital member of any collaborative team. Because these professionals are better trained to understand the unique personalities involved, from clients to professionals, they can share that information with the rest of the team, or simply act on it to ensure that the team members, including the clients, interact more harmoniously.

Equipped with a better understanding of each person’s concerns, stresses, motives, personalities, etc., the collaborative team is better able to resolve issues more quickly, smoothly, and effectively than divorce litigation attorneys can.

In stressful life situations, from worldwide pandemics to family divorces, it’s important to put yourself in others’ shoes before you relate to them inappropriately, in a way that isn’t helpful. Everyone deals with stress differently. Just because one person appears as though he is coping better than another doesn’t mean that he is and that he doesn’t need special attention, as well.

By fully understanding the personalities, the collaborative team more effectively helps a couple through their difficulties.
Now I must go, as I hear the tyrant stirring, and I must go shove a boob in her mouth.

But before I do, let me suggest that, deciding whether to restructure your family, and, if so, how, is a difficult decision. Your family’s situation and issues should ultimately guide that decision. But don’t stress. We can help you and your partner work through the issues gracefully and with kindness and empathy for each other’s fears and concerns.

If you’ve decided to end the negative narrative loop and build a new life, don’t hesitate to reach out to us at Open Palm Law. We are committed to helping your family heal and reach resolutions, regardless of which process you choose to take you there.

By Lori Stewart and Joryn Jenkins

Learn more about collaborative divorce. Follow Open Palm Law.

Need advice now? Contact Joryn!

About this week’s author, Joryn Jenkins.

Joryn, attorney and Open Palm Founder, began her own firm here in Tampa after a 14-year career in law, two of which she served as a professor of law at Stetson University. She is a recipient of the prestigious A. Sherman Christensen Award, an honor bestowed in the United States Supreme Court upon those who have provided exceptional leadership in the American Inns of Court Movement. For more information on Joryn’s professional experience, take a look at her resume.

And

Lori received her Juris Doctor with honors from the University of Florida Levin College of Law in December 2004, from which she graduated with honors. Proud to be a Florida Gator, Lori had also attended the UF as an undergraduate, graduating with honors with a Bachelor of Science in Psychology, as well as a Minor in Education. Choosing her law school focus early, as a student member of the Virgil B. Hawkins Civil Clinic, Lori assisted indigent clients with family law issues.

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