I just returned from attending The Parliament of World Religions in Salt Lake City. I am still metabolizing the experience. On the last morning I attended a Healing Service for the World led by women indigenous leaders from around the globe. One leader, Grandmother Mary Lyons, an Ojibwe Elder from Minnesota, shared the following for our consideration:
At night we adults gather around a table for conversation. Often a child will come running up to us, crying, out of breath, with a story accusing some other child of wrongdoing.
First, I check to make sure there's no injury. My next impulse is to embrace the child and hug away the tears. But instead, I tell the child to sit in the corner, still with us, but a few feet away in the corner.
Then I listen. I listen to the breath as the child heaves and sobs. Soon a surrender comes and breathing returns to normal. Then I invite the child to come sit by my side and tell me the whole story.
Afterward the story is done I say, "You are amazing! Look how you solved this all on your own."
In our efforts to soothe others, we disempower them and repress their natural ability to heal their own wounds.
While at the parliament I also heard a new term: "vicious empathy". Vicious empathy is when we take the time to understand another person's pain but then foist on them assistance that is uninvited or unhelpful. Instead of collaborating or supporting them to heal themselves, we soothe our own discomfort by trying to eradicate the other person's pain.
When we impose our preferred solutions on others, whether they be individuals or whole groups of people, we magnify misery. When we stand with the hurting, we make space for their own healing power to arise.
At the end of the service I approached Grandmother Lyons and thanked her. She hugged me and said, "No need to thank me. Be grateful to yourself. I just brought forward the good that was already within you."
Skilled leaders and grandmas work their magic leaving the impression that you've done it all yourself.