Empathy 101 for Diabetics

The best way to open a closed door.      Photo Courtesy of Nuttakit
The best way to open a closed door.     Photo Courtesy of Nuttakit


While I would consider myself no expert on the subject of empathy, I would say that it is a natural quality of mine (unlike so many other things lol).  Not something I take credit for, just something I was born with it seems.  Today it’s all about the greatness of empathy and how you and I can put it into practice more frequently.

What is empathy?  You know that saying, “walk a mile in another man’s shoes”?  Well…it’s like that.  Empathy is imagining how someone is feeling and you can even learn to anticipate how someone will react to something.  I was in an empathy training for work years ago.  We had a series of questions to answer and then we reviewed everyone’s answers.  Out of 30 people only two of us had “acceptable” answers.  It led me to believe that many people may be a bit out of touch with using empathy.

Or maybe it’s not that we don’t know to use empathy.  Maybe we only use it with loved ones.  This is a big problem because often, people who could really use our empathy are acquaintances, or even people we don’t like or know.

Don’t feel you owe anyone empathy because you’re suffering a lot?  Well then consider that your actions dictate how others will treat you.  You want understanding don’t you?

Well, here are ways to get into an empathy giving habit:

Imagine what someone may really be feeling/thinking.

When that “diabetes police” says “Geez, your blood sugar is high again!” imagine what that person might be feeling.  Perhaps frustration in loving you and knowing that a high blood sugar doesn’t mean good things for you?  Or maybe this person is just surprised or confounded by your blood sugar being high even though you seem to do really well and they are frustrated with your misfortune to have diabetes-not with you necessarily. 

Change your choice of words.

You know how mothers act when their child does something daring (like jumping off the deck or roof of a house)?  A mother will run to her child and instead of hug him in relief of his being ok, she’ll scold him at the top of her lungs and tell him ten different ways he’ll suffer if he ever scares her so badly again.  What mom really meant was, “I love you so much and if something ever happened to you I don’t know how I’d go on so please don’t do this again-you might get hurt.”

This is how many of us are.  It is natural for our fears to shake us up and make us speak in harsh or demanding tones when really we just feel worried about someone.  So a great thing to try is to change our words.  Tell your loved one, aka personal diabetes police officer, that you’d appreciate it if they’d instead say something like, “Oh no, your blood sugar is high again, you probably don’t feel well.  How can I help?”

Look around you and put yourself in another’s shoes.

When you’re in line to buy groceries and someone ahead of you is a very old woman taking what you’d swear is a million years to write a simple check, stop yourself and imagine being her.

She is hunched over and so you figure her back must not feel so good.  Her mind isn’t as quick as it once was so she is looking up at the monitor to make sure she got the amount correct on the check.  You notice her fingers trembling just a tad and so imagine her fingers are having a tough time grasping the pen.  And maybe she doesn’t feel well.  Some days you don’t either and you’re not her.  Perhaps she feels really awful and just wants to lie down.  Instead, she is at the store by herself and is trying to just pay for her food and go home.  Maybe the walk to the car won’t be easy…

You get what I mean.  That was an easy example.  What about when you get angry with the infamous (in the diabetes community) Halle Berry.  Yes, her.  You might be frustrated because she hasn’t done the amount of diabetes awareness work you’d like her too.  You might be angry because years ago she said she turned into a type 2 diabetic from a type 1 with diet and exercise.  And you might be frustrated because she doesn’t seem to have an understanding about the different types of diabetes and how her words impact so many.

Fair enough.  But, I suggest we try hard at being as kind as we say we are.  Try to give her the benefit of the doubt.  She has helped raise money for diabetes and shows up at events, maybe she doesn’t want to do more because of some unknown struggle in her life?  When she made the incorrect statement years ago about no longer having type 1, I think, well someone might have misinformed her.  Not everyone does research on their own and maybe she thought that since she could afford a top doctor that he or she would be trustworthy.  Why would someone say they went from type 1 to type 2 diabetic?  I believe her understanding of the correct info was somehow lost somewhere.  Maybe she didn’t understand what a doctor explained to her.  Maybe a doctor gave her incorrect info.  In later interviews she has said that she manages her long time type 2 diabetes with diet and exercise and that she used to use insulin-but doesn’t anymore.  So it sounds like she has come closer to understanding her condition.  She appears healthy so I can’t say she looks like she doesn’t know how to take care of herself.  I guess time will be the one to really tell us.  I wonder if she has a hard time with the constant media attention.  I wonder if she hasn’t learned more about diabetes because it scares her and talking publicly about it might be depressing (hey, I know some people like this).  I’d like it if we had her as a force on the diabetes awareness scene because she is so well-known.  But, she isn’t required to do this and for us to act like she is, is wrong.  

We’re in the same boat and sending her more rude messages than we send others who we wish would do more is also wrong because remember, diabetes is hard on everyone!  If you think her life is easier than yours then you are still fighting your own ignorance.  Besides, all the negative attention on a celebrity reinforces the thinking that celebrities are better than us or somehow above us non-celebrity folk.  They’re not.  We criticize when others make celebrities more than what they are.  Then we turn around and bash them for mistakes that anyone might make.  We say that because they’re famous they have greater responsibilities.  I understand this.  I also understand that if Halle Berry got online and read what everyone said about her in regards to her diabetes, she might steer clear of advocating for diabetes.  You know, to steer clear of all the angry, hateful words and criticism.  I wonder how may of us might to do the same, in her position.  Maybe if we’re nicer and call out for her help…maybe then we’d get it.

So with that said, I’m proposing everyone try to empathize with those you find it hard to empathize with the most.  I admit it’s not easy but, I’ll keep trying and you keep trying and together we’ll find that the Diabetes Online Community and the world is a much nicer place.

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