If someone says to you (usually accompanied by a gentle pat on the shoulder) "I know just how you feel," you should immediately cease conversing and never speak to them again.
Each human being on this planet contains trillions of thoughts, feelings, and memories that are specific only to that one special human being. Every joy, every pain, every shame, every love— those are all unique. No one else knows those things — just you. Not your mother, your sister, your best friend, or even your therapist. (Nobody tells their therapist the whole truth about anything, and therapists know that. That’s why they’re usually way off base with the advice they give you.)
But that phrase tells you something about the speaker — they feel superior to you, they probably pity you, and they’re in full control of what happens next. Fake empathy has led millions of people to make very unwise decisions. (You’ll see and hear a lot of it in the next couple of months. It’s a favored political tactic.)
The current wrangle about the Columbus statue downtown gives us an opportunity to escape the "fake empathy" trap, whichever side of the issue you’re on.
Let’s try this. Lock yourself in the bathroom at home and tell everyone else in the house to leave you alone. Look at yourself in the mirror, right in the eyes, and don’t look away. Ask yourself what that statue really means to you, what it symbolizes, how many times a day do you look at it, what will it mean to you if it’s gone, how will the community be hurt if it’s gone, or if it stays?
And consider only your own unique set of feelings, not how you think other people will feel. (Most of us have a hard-enough time figuring out ourselves, we’re just making it harder by throwing other people into the mix.)
And don’t be swayed by something you read in the media or saw on Facebook about what’s going on in other cities. Stay focused.
Hold that stare until you feel the relief that comes with understanding. And then – nahongvita. That’s a Hopi Indian word that translates in English to something like dig deeper.
The tribe every year makes signs with that word on them and attends the state cross-country championship. They position themselves beside the route where the finish line is in sight and wave their signs and shout "Nahongvita!" At the time I learned of it, their boys had won the championship 23 years in a row, and with the same coach.
Whether you’re running a marathon or writing a thesis or battling cancer, when you reach the point where you want to give up, bring that word to mind.
When you’re absolutely positive your mind is clear on the issue, that your motives are legitimate and based on facts and not on anger or rancor, then you’re ready to join the conversation about finding a solution to the issue. And not before.
Emily Price is a retired insurance executive and is active in the community, serving on various boards and panels.