There is no place for blame in empowerment.
Recently a public post was made about a father who went to a parent's room to change his daughter's nappy. He was approached by a woman who asked where his wife was, and continued with “You know, you are changing a girl!", implying he was doing something wrong. The post asked “How would you feel if you were this dad trying to be a parent and liberate your daughter from a nappy that needed changing?”
Imagining being in this situation my immediate feelings were of curiosity. I was curious about the woman's life experiences and what she might be needing to feel more comfortable about fathers changing their daughter's nappy.
I wrote my response:
"I've never had any problems. The first reaction for me in reading this, and considering how I would feel hearing this, is I would be curious about how the woman was feeling. I'd offer empathy to the woman, it seems that she was feeling so uncomfortable about the situation and there is a very high chance considering the level of abuse that happens to girls that she may have been directly affected in some way. This is a place of strength I like to come from as a man and father on the planet."
After responding, I read some nearly 70 other people's opinions on the situation, my heart sank and I began to feel disturbed by the lack of compassion shown for the woman and the portraying the father as a victim. It was not because I was holding judgement upon the people responding in this way, but seeing a similar dynamic was being mirrored. That is, reacting to a situation by attempting to make the other person wrong, and by colluding with a game of victim and persecutor. In the same way I wanted to respond to the woman involved, I wanted to give empathy to each person on the thread, and felt stuck not having the time to open dialogue with so many people.
I don't see that suggesting the woman was doing something wrong and putting her down are empowering for fathers or mothers. This leads me to a far more important question close to my heart – How can we empower people in these situations?
I want to see both fathers and mothers supported in community in a way that enables communication beyond rights and wrongs, beyond the defences rising from unconscious wounding.
"Beyond our ideas of right-doing and wrong-doing,
there is a field. I’ll meet you there..."
So what can we do to empower fathers who feel hurt, shame, guilt, anger etc when they are met with judgements from others?
Empathy is the key !
To offer empathy we need to be heart centred and clear of our own emotional past so we truly connect and offer understanding. Brene Brown explains “empathy moves us to a place of courage and compassion. Through it, we come to realize that our perspective is not the perspective." A place of courage and compassion is an empowering position. Pointing the finger and putting down others is not a place of courage or compassion, it is another flag being waved saying “this hurts and I want to defend myself”.
As Mark Bear suggests, “empathy predominantly involves learning about someone else's worldview”. To be able to understand another person's world view we need to be open and defenceless. The word empathy gets tossed around a lot these days and I think it is important to consider the difference particularly with acts of sympathy or pity.
In the case of the woman questioning the father changing a nappy, both involved are in need of empathy to come to an understanding together. Likewise, most of the people who responded by putting down the woman in support of the father were needing empathy. When as a community we can come to an understanding of differing perspectives and what each is needing to feel comfortable, safe and free, then we will be in a place of respect and healing that is much needed. Then together, fathers and mothers will be empowered.
I'm interested to hear responses about the situation coming from questions like:
- How would love move you if you were in this father's situation?
- What would be the most empowering way to turn this situation around?
- What would your heart say to the father to support him?
- What would your heart say to the mother to support her?
So what are some practical views on supporting the father in this real life scenario. Essentially he needed empathy in the moment and afterward. This means without blame of the woman, to really hear and understand how the father felt. We might choose to say, warmly "Wow, it sounds like you were really shocked and angry about what she said to you?". Notice here there is no blame and no suggestion of pity or sympathy. This empathetic question invites a connection and acknowledges the father had some strong feelings, and it is open, so he has an opportunity to say and be heard for how he felt exactly.
Because our feelings are arising from what we are needing, we can dig a little deeper in our offer of understanding. Perhaps the father felt anger because he was needing respect and trust? After establishing how he felt, we can ask something like "It sounded painful.... how would you have liked it to be?" Then keep a keen ear out for his needs and reflect this back even if he responded reactively. Remember empathy is not siding with the stories running, it is hearing and understanding in a heart-centred way.
A reaction might sound like "It's simple - if that nutcase just kept out of my business, it would have been fine !!" Empathetically, we might choose to say "Yes, it sounds like you simply wanted freedom and respect to care for your daughter." Staying with a person's feelings and needs empathetically in this way has a powerful effect in coming to resolution. Once the person is fully heard and understood in a heart-centred way, it gives them room to see things differently.
The next step we might want to move toward empowering conversation to enable a person to become more resilient to emotional hijacking, and develop more acceptance. One direction, once the power of empathy has enabled acceptance and peace, may be to consider looking at how the mother in the situation was feeling and needing. The empowerment comes with the intention of creating an understanding of others around us and their reactions, and also our own. That is, guiding a conversation around self-empathy so that a person can become more resilient to reactions arising out of judgements and opinions of others, while developing empathy for them. We can only give empathy as much as the empathy that we give ourselves.
Empowering a father to be able to support himself and stay in his heart in the face of judgement has incredible potential for community healing as he moves through his fathering journey. Seeing the level of community reactions to the scenario people expressed, gives me a sense of how much pain fathers feel when in a place of judgement and the great need for healing at a community level.
I long for heart-centred communities of parents to enable a more harmonious planet. There is so much potential for making deep changes to how we relate on the planet through the way we are supported as parents and raise our children.
I am feeling inspired and looking forward to writing some more on building heart-centred communities
Those fathers interested there is a facebook support group called Aware Dads. This group is intended to be a safe place of support, growth and community for fathers practising with parenting philosophies that are non-cohesive, democratic and emotionally aware. Philosophies similar to the principles of Aware Parenting.
A similar perspective in the words of Thich Nhat Hanh