• author
    • Maya Stiles Parsons Spier

      Columnist, Editor-in-Chief
    • June 9, 2014 in Columnists

    Be the angel, not the fool

    For fools rush in where angels fear to tread.
    Alexander Pope in his poem An Essay on Criticism

    Recently I did something stupid that resulted in a family embroilment.  It started out as my fault, but continued into others making it worse.

    Although I can’t claim to always make it easy, I actually do try and if you approach me with empathy and kindness, I’ll listen.  In fact, despite my assumption that I am the emotional savant in the family, my husband has done something that shows pure emotional genius.  When he had something difficult to tell me, he either wrapped me in a hug or he literally took me to lie down and snuggle.  I’m telling you, when the news was given in such a manner, it proved impossible to do anything more than take it serenely and acceptingly.

    Unfortunately, few of us approach these situations with such empathy and tenderness.  We don’t come in with the understanding that what we have to say may be difficult to hear.  We also don’t pause to consider why people are reacting or behaving they way they are.  Instead, before we stop and ask what’s up, before we find out why the person is upset and venting, we judge. We don’t ask “what happened?” We don’t inquire “are you okay?” We don’t offer to help. We don’t accept that we all have moments of ill-considered ire aired in the wrong way. Instead we ravage the person – and to what end? I’ve certainly been guilty of it, and I’ve also kicked myself several times around the block because, as it turns out, the person who was venting had every legitimate reason to be upset. What they need is to be heard, with compassion, with understanding.

    When I am approached with empathy, with concerned questions and then a gentle suggestion that I could have done whatever I did a bit better, I am far more able to listen and I will then gratefully share what was getting me so down and work through it. If I am shredded instead, it will turn into a brawl that would never have needed to happen.  It will destroy a moment that could have been something constructive that brought more connection than ever.

    The point is this: Disagreements actually exist for the purpose of making progress. One person or set of people doesn’t like what another person or set of people is doing. They don’t like how it affects them. It isn’t working. The first set wants to negotiate with the second set to make some changes so that both sets can be happy. Is it easy? Oh, hell no. It’s excruciating – but it’s necessary. We share a space, a town, a country, a planet. We need to approach the situation with empathy, compassion, true listening and good, honest questions. We need to understand that both sets of people have legitimate needs and wishes and that both sets deserve to be as comfortable and happy as they can be without unduly making one or the other set miserable.

    It’s only as hard as we make it.  We set the rules a lot more than we think we do.

    So – we have a basic choice here. We can work toward a better tomorrow with love and good intentions and practical solutions – or we can indulge our desire to shred, to ravage, to revenge ourselves. In the long run – what works better? What gives a good result? What are we trying to achieve – a Pyrrhic victory that leaves nothing but ruins and ash or a green and leafy paradise where everybody gets at least most of what they want?

    And how do we start down that road to the paradise? Slowly. Without rushing in, mouths already spewing venom. Stop. Look at the situation. Ask the basic questions. Assume the people you’re dealing with at least want to be good people. Apply empathy. Have a heart.

    It’s surprising how often this works. I will try to remember to do this, too.


    • Great piece of writing. I am sorry you are struggling and hope you find peace. You have it in you. Just let it shine.

        • Maya North

        • June 9, 2014 at 10:10 am
        • Reply

        Thank you so much! I know few whose pasts have not been thorny, but it does seem to me that empathy is not only kinder but, in the long run, actually more practical.

    • Very nice Maya.

        • Maya North

        • June 9, 2014 at 5:56 pm
        • Reply

        Thank you, Donald 🙂 One of these days I’ll manage not to learn something important the hard way — apparently not quite yet, though 😉 Hugs!

      • Melody Starya Mobley

      • June 10, 2014 at 6:48 am
      • Reply

      Maya, so wonderful to read a whole piece of your work and I am fortunate, no blessed really, that this first writing I’ve been privileged to read is one I need so much. I also have shredded people on occasion and have prided myself on my ability to out-argue almost anyone coming up with just the right zinger to inflict the most “points” for my side of the argument. How selfish and unproductive to even think of having a “discussion” this way. Being geared for battle is never the way to enter a discussion with anyone, especially someone we profess to love or with which we hope to continue a productive, caring relationship. Thank you for writing this. I wish it could be required reading for all of us.

        • Maya North

        • June 10, 2014 at 6:29 pm
        • Reply

        Oh, thank you, Melody! Sometimes, the ability to slam-dunk people is necessary. Sometimes we need to be disciplined enough to resist the urge. There have been people who have tried to crush me — those people, if they won’t stop, become my cat toys. But other times, people are showing their vulnerability and hurt in ways that trigger at least irritation and I do need to slow down and see the difference… Big hugs!!!

      • Robin Pratt

      • June 13, 2014 at 10:22 am
      • Reply

      excellent piece! And, though I wish it could be easy, almost all lessons worth learning are learned through pain. Old saying-change is what happens when the pain of staying the same outweighs the pain of moving forward. You are such a blessing!

        • Maya North

        • June 13, 2014 at 9:08 pm
        • Reply

        Oh, mercy, Robin, you’ve been a blessing to me since high school. You probably didn’t even know it then, but you there you were, this beautiful, intelligent, slightly cynical young woman who didn’t hate me on sight but treated me like someone worth knowing. I never forgot you, and reconnecting has been pure joy. I have never seemed to learn anything the easy way — why IS that? At least I do learn, and then I try very hard to apply it. Now and then, it’s more of a challenge than other times.

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