Empathy: two people, two reactions

word of month character

We tell a joke or say something that is funny.  One person laughs – another person does not.  We serve squash at dinner, one person likes it – another person does not.  We are at the ocean and we playfully splash water on our friends, one person laughs – the other person gets mad. 

What happened here?  Two people can feel differently about the same situation.  In fact what may be amusing to me on one day may aggravate me on another.  No matter the situation we must consider the personality and mood of a person when we are using our empathy. 

Now we know that on an intellectual basis but have you ever seen someone do something that gets a bad reaction from another and then says, “just kidding”.   If we make someone angry, hurt, or upset, does saying “just kidding”  solve the situation.  In my opinion it does not.  In fact given the tone of voice or other physical actions I may even question the sincerity of the comment. 

Many years ago I had an embarrassing situation take place that required an apology and a rethinking of how I described things.  One day I had a phone call from a business acquaintance whom I had never met in person.  He asked me how I was doing and I said “I was busier than a one-armed paper hanger”.   We both laughed, but then a couple of months later I had the occasion to be in his office.  Much to my surprise he was an amputee with just one arm.  Can you imagine my feeling at the moment of meeting him.  Now whether this is just being too PC or not – but I vowed to myself never to use such an expression again unless I knew the person very well and then in person only. 

No matter our age we must take responsibility for the choices and actions we make, even if we didn’t mean it.  How would we do this?  We must make a sincere apology to the party that was hurt, and then be sure that both ourselves and others do not continue in that line of speech or action.  This is true whether it is a young child playing with another child’s hat or joking that is done by an adult. 

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