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Inner Musings: Climbing the Mountain and Cat Videos

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We’re excited to introduce our newest muse contributor, Lauren Eimers-Wangrud, bringing us some Capricorn Season advice on how to be more human and empathetic toward those different from us after the stresses of an intense 2016. As a licensed mental health and genetic counselor, Lauren brings a valuable and compassionate voice to our muse-ful community. Photography by Dan Peck

“Power comes not from the barrel of a gun, but from one’s awareness of his or her own cultural strength and the unlimited capacity to empathize with, feel for, care, and love one’s brothers and sisters.” – Addison Gayle, Jr.

2016 has been called many things, most of them negative and rightly so. This was the year that stripped us of beloved artists, robbed the U.S. of its hope for its first female president and nationally exposed the roiling underbelly of racism, sexism, and xenophobia that many Americans still call patriotism.

2016 also witnessed the massive loss of civilian life from overcrowded escape vessels in unforgiving waters to the dissolution and death of families just trying to reach safety across borders from their once-safe home. We also saw another mass murder of individuals just out celebrating their youth and vitality at a club in Florida. It’s human nature to recall the jarring events of the past, while forgetting the better times and while there are other years in humankind’s history that could take the title as the “worst,” 2016 has put so much information in our faces without the obvious ability to actively do anything about it.

It’s understandable that one can become numb to this seemingly constant barrage of horrific news, day in and day out. That is totally normal and I’m here to tell you that’s ok – don’t beat yourself up over wanting to look away from these reports and images. Taking a break to expose your mind to something uplifting and light can be a salve for the weary mind and soul. Yes, I’m telling you those cute cat videos are something that is 100% necessary for your mental health.

But before we all end up staring into our phones at 3am after hours of animals sneezing videos, we need to also recognize that the echo chambers we’ve built around ourselves have served as protection from many of the horrors that took us by surprise this year. While David Bowie’s passing and transformation into stardust was something out of our control, the “social siloing” we create for ourselves on Twitter, Facebook, and the like made many of this year’s occurrences seem like impossibilities is something we can change. When your social media feeds likely just reverberate the same thoughts and ideas you have, it can seem like more folks ascribe to your way of thinking, are voting similarly, and treating other human beings in the same way you do.

This siloing is one of the reasons conversations with the “other side” rarely end well or even occur to begin with. In the spirit of Capricorn season, let’s take this time to makes a promise to ourselves to push outside of our comfort zones. Let’s seek and endeavor to understand the perspective of those who oppose our viewpoints. In this journey to dialogue with others, don’t feel pressure to change any minds or persuade the opposing party; in simply understanding comes empathy and with empathy comes compassion.

But why should we have to do all the work, many have asked? Why do we need to listen and reflect? Empathy from you doesn’t just benefit the person you’re with, it can benefit you, as well. Steering your mind away from objectifying an individual helps you keep their humanity at the forefront. Objectifying people deliberately can distance us from the opposing party and keep the discomfort empathy can bring at bay. Associating people with groups can be a slippery slope, making it easy for us to forget the individual, their stories, and their nuanced positions. Ultimately, they are bringing their history, ideals, and hopes to the table, just like you.

Sounds a lot like climbing Mount Everest, right? Change happens incrementally, for better or for worse, so you can empower yourself to be on the side of change for the better, one step up the mountain at a time. Continue putting yourself out there, challenge you own worldview while listening and dialoguing with those that both share and oppose your viewpoint, push yourself to donate to charities that are fighting the good fight, just like you, don’t forget that there are real people on the other end of those tweets and Facebook posts. And last, but not least, watch a cat video here and there (try this one).

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