Have you ever met somebody who is facing a serious challenge (either health or any other) and don’t know how to respond?

Young girl (10-11) crying, teenage girl (14-15) comforting herMay be you are facing a serious challenge. How do you feel about other’s responses? How would you like people to respond?

I have been diagnosed with Parkinson’s. It is at a very early stage, just tremors in my right fingers.

What is your first reaction and what is it based on?

So far every time I have shared that I have Parkinson’s (after they have noticed tremors in my fingers), people have expressed, “Oh no!” or “Oh my God!” or “Oooo! (Repulsive)”

Such responses from people come from envisioning the worst case scenario and based on how they would feel if they imagine themselves having the worst case symptoms. Only one person asked me how I feel about it.

Since I am constantly thinking about Emotional Intelligence (EI) skills, such as empathy; I feel this personal issue may be another context to bring forward what I believe empathy means.

If people would ask me what I think about my Parkinson’s diagnosis; I would say, “I consider it as a gift from God/Universe/Higher Power, it will allow me to transform myself in a way I have never imagined.”

People imagine that I feel sad or angry or some unpleasant emotion; however, I feel at peace and energized to work towards the best case scenario (at least that is my intention.) At the moment, I don’t consider this as a serious challenge; although I regularly learn about what I may face and the options I have. I focus on the best case vision and continue to focus on what “I can do” rather than what “I cannot do.”

I believe sympathy comes from how one would feel if they were in the other person’s shoes; while empathy comes from feeling what the other person is feeling.

Sympathy requires me to treat others as I would like to be treated; while empathy requires me to treat others as they would like to be treated.

According to Marco Iacoboni, all humans have “mirror neurons” and are wired to feel others emotions, if we are more self-aware and not overwhelmed by our own more intense emotions, such as fear, grief, and even excitement.

So why am I writing about this issue? When you meet somebody with an ability that you perceive to be challenging, you have options to:

  1. Notice your reaction, pause, take a couple of deep breath, and intentionally choose the next step.
  2. Notice the thoughts behind those emotions, and explore other possible options
  3. Be empathetically curious and ask the person:
    • How he or she feels about the situation
    • What is his/her goal or vision
    • How can he/she be open to find a purpose
    • How can you support him/her towards his goal

If you are affected by a serious challenge, you have an option to choose what I chose.  To:

  • Accept the present as is, without any judgement. Artist Phil Hansen discovered that “Embracing a limitation can actually drive creativity” (watch his TED talk.)
  • Be empathetically curious and see how I can discover a purpose
  • Focus on what “I can do” rather than what “I cannot do” and push the envelope of what is possible.
  • If I run into people who are sympathetic, I choose to be empathetic towards them.

I would love to hear any comments via email: shabbir@shabbirlatif.com