What a Grumpy Old Farmer Taught Me About Empathy

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“Hurt people hurt people.” – Lizzie Velasquez

A couple of months ago, I had the opportunity to attend the Michigan Farm Bureau state annual conference and serve as a delegate representative for my county. Now, if you’re unfamiliar with Farm Bureau or organizations like it, members from across the state come together every year to discuss what type of policy they support or oppose. This helps lobbyists at the state and local level prioritize which issues to focus on. It really is a cool experience to be a part of and demonstrates how you can have a greater level of influence in government when lots of individuals come together.

Anyways, I was a delegate for my county and I decided to stand up and propose policy supporting the continuation of Net Neutrality. Now, it’s my personal belief that Net Neutrality should not be a partisan issue – through my view of the world, it’s a consumer protection issue – but I also know that everything is a partisan issue in today’s political landscape.

And farmers tend to be pretty conservative – not super conducive to a proposal supporting regulations.

It was probably going to be fighting an uphill battle, but I proceeded to step up to the microphone and state my desired policy language. I had researched the topic and wrote it out ahead of time so that I said it in an informed, coherent manner. Having put my idea forward, I stepped back from the microphone and took a deep breath – pretty proud of myself for working up the guts to speak out.

And then the debate began.

As expected, there were several people who disagreed with me. They cited past regulation and beliefs about whether or not the internet is a utility that everyone should have access to and the ideal of just letting the free market sort itself out. Not surprisingly, I didn’t agree with many of their counterpoints – but everyone was respectful and their arguments made sense.

Until this one man spoke up.

Young people just don’t think things through all the way, he said. ‘Free’ and ‘open’ and ‘fair’ are all well and good, but they just don’t understand how it really works.

And then I was mad.

Initial Reactions

I can deal with people disagreeing with me. In many cases, I actually enjoy it! Many of my favorite discussions in the past year have been with people I disagree with, where we debate our viewpoints. In all of those interactions, though, the people I debated with were respectful and kept our discussion focused on the ideas at hand – never making it about personal attacks. Not this guy though.

Young people just don’t think things through.

See, what made me so mad about this man was the fact that he wasn’t debating the merits of the argument like so many who had stepped up to the microphone before him. He was attacking me and my intelligence. And, if there’s one thing most people who know me would tell you, it’s never belittle my intellect. It’s the thing I value most about myself and it’s the thing I will take most personally if you doubt it. Sure, we may have disagreeing viewpoints – but don’t ever question that I haven’t done my homework. (I’m a perfectionist with a string of self-doubt – I always do my homework to avoid looking stupid!)

And so, once the delegate session finished, I proceeded to bitch and moan to everyone I could find.

Fine – go ahead and disagree with me, but don’t say I don’t understand the issue! Debate ideas, not people. We can look at the exact same situation and have different opinions – that doesn’t make me less intelligent.

And, yes, I was so offended that I even stooped to the low point of hurling personal attacks back (when talking to my friends, of course – not directly to the man in question).

Young people don’t understand things about the INTERNET? I can be pretty sure we know better than the 70-year-old dude with the flip phone! I know I lost on that policy – no surprise – but I got the votes of the young people in the room who really get it.

Yeah, I don’t claim to be proud of that rant.

In the moment, though, I was hurt. And, as the quote up above said, hurt people want to hurt people. So I bitched and moaned and complained to those I knew would back me up. Anything to make myself feel better.

Practicing Empathy

In the last few days, I’ve been thinking about that Lizzie Velasquez quote – which I heard in a recent interview she did on Marie Forleo’s podcast – a lot. And, it dawned on me:

In that situation on the delegate floor, I probably wasn’t the only hurt person hurling insults to make myself feel better.

With that quote floating around in my brain – “hurt people hurt people” – I’ve been attempting to put on my empathy glasses and look at it from the man’s point of view. Yes, the man who shortchanged my knowledge by chalking it up to being a simplistic, idealistic young person. What could he have been thinking and feeling at the time?

Maybe he feels as though he’s becoming irrelevant as more and more young people step forward to take the place of influence that used to be his.

Maybe he’s uncomfortable with his level of understanding around technology, and attacking young people is easier than admitting he’s not sure what Net Neutrality is.

Maybe he’s been burned by government regulations so many times that he can’t see a world in which regulations might protect him, instead of hurt him.

Maybe he’s worked with young people in the past who haven’t valued his experience or knowledge, so assumes we’re all like that.

Maybe he’s just forgotten what it’s like to be young and idealistic, after too many hard years of tough times and untrustworthy people.

Sure, he could just be a jerk. But maybe, like me, he feels as though the world doesn’t value what he brings to the table and was looking for any opportunity to gain the higher ground – to feel important and to feel heard.

Letting Go

I stewed on that man’s words for a very long time. Longer than I should have. And the only person that stewing hurt?

Me.

By attempting to empathize with his experience, though – whether I’m making it all up to make myself feel better or not – I’ve begun to feel a willingness to forgive. His words don’t feel so offensive. It doesn’t hurt my feelings near as much.

Do I like what he said? Not at all. But it doesn’t have the resonance it had when I was under the notion that I was the only one feeling hurt.

Hurt people hurt people.

Ironically, by seeing the hurt in others, it minimizes the hurt we feel ourselves. I can’t guarantee that I won’t have to learn that lesson over and over again. But, for right now, I feel better.

And I’m letting it go.

Photo by Kane Reinholdtsen on Unsplash

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I have a motivation problem.

Now, for those that know me, you probably think the title of this post is pretty funny. When it comes to work and my professional life, I’m pretty darn self-motivated. When it comes to my life outside of work, though, I’m about as lazy as they come (in fact, on any given Saturday, this dog and I have lots in common).

I hate working out.

I love Netflix.

I hate doing laundry.

I love my bed.

I hate cleaning my house.

I love cuddling with my dog.

I don’t want to leave the house after 7:00 pm.

I want to binge watch Orange is the New Black.

See the problem here?

The challenge is that I know it’s better for me and everyone around me if I just got a little motivation. I need to work out so that I’m healthier in the long run. I need to do my laundry so I don’t wear the same thing every day. I need to clean my house regularly so I don’t always have to do it in the hour before someone comes over. I need to go out some nights because that’s what social, normal people do. I need to do these things so I can hold on to my sanity and be a better version of me.

So how do I fix the problem?

In an effort to be a more motivated, productive individual starting now, I am establishing the following two goals for the rest of January:

  1. Do one plank a day, increasing in time by at least one second per day (this is similar to the 30-day plank challenge that a lot of people are doing, but alas, I sort of didn’t start on time…)
  2. Complete at least one body weight and one core workout per week at home, in addition to my weekly training session.
  3. Run at least one load of dishes and one load of laundry each week (you’d think this wouldn’t be that hard and you would be wrong).

And to accomplish these goals, I’m putting in place the following rules!

First, I will put anything I need to do on my calendar and to-do list. I don’t know about you, but I have a love affair with my Outlook calendar and my Wunderlist to-do list app. They are my lifeblood and I will do whatever they say (most of the time). So I’m starting there.

Secondly, I’m calling in backup, specifically in the area of fitness. Right now, the only workouts I’m getting in are my once-a-week appointment with my trainer. That’s correct – I’m paying for a gym membership, but only showing up to the training sessions I’m paying extra for. Why (besides the already established fact that I’m lazy)? Because I have someone I’m accountable to (oh, and I really like Jen). So, I’ve decided that I need someone to be accountable to on a regular basis. I’ve asked my trainer Jen to shoot me a text a couple times a week, just asking how my workouts are going. I don’t want to let her down, so I think this might help.

My laziness won’t be cured in a day – of this I’m well aware. Even baby steps, though, when on the right path, should move me in the right direction.

How do you get yourself out of a rut and get motivated when it feels like you have zero interest in doing something? Would love to hear suggestions!

AgChat conference perfect for college aggies

Since I recently graduated from Michigan State (Go Green!) and just took an awesome full-time position a couple of days ago, I’d like to think that I’ve done a pretty good job at preparing for “the real world” and that I can offer some halfway decent advice to college students and recent graduates. My big piece of advice today for those college aggies out there: apply for the AgChat Foundation Agvocacy 2.0 Social Media Training Conference!

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