Monday, July 2, 2012

A Formal Introduction

Me and My Munchkin, photo by Jason Pratt
Hi, there. My name is Mary. When people ask me what I “do” these days, I’m not sure what to say. Most of my time is spent chasing and nurturing a toddler, and trying to stay in the present while my mind wanders to planning our family’s next meal, designing workshops, or wondering if I remembered to switch the laundry to the dryer. For our purposes, it may be best to say that what I “do” is spend a lot of time thinking about, reading about and studying empathy, honest and compassionate communication, and listening.

I left my last full-time position exactly two years ago to prepare for the birth of my first child (who turned out to be my amazing daughter, Cadence). I had been working as the program director of a crisis and suicide hotline for four years before making this drastic change. One of my roles at the hotline included training our corps of inspiring volunteers in the art of active listening, crisis and suicide intervention, and other skills necessary for life on the lines. I’ve been fortunate to continue
training for local and state organizations and I've seen the empathic skill set I teach result in real change, not only for those on the “receiving end,” but for those who master the skill set themselves. My passion for this work comes from my own transformative experiences working on the hotline as well as appreciating how this form of communication has enriched relationships with my husband, my family, and others close to me (yes, even my 21-month old toddler!).

I learned so much through the challenge of working on a crisis and suicide hotline. However, I believe my greatest challenge (and greatest lesson in empathy) came not at 2am facing a life-or-death situation, but at 2am facing a sleep-deprived partner, being myself sleep-deprived, and unsuccessfully trying to soothe an infant who just wouldn’t, couldn’t go to sleep. Once I did get some sleep and regained some sanity, it occurred to me that the skills I had been developing over the past eight years (I was a volunteer on the hotline for four years before joining the staff) were absolutely necessary for me now, more than ever. 

Conveying empathy, speaking honestly, and listening deeply isn’t something that you DO on a hotline or DO with a client or DO from 9-5. It’s something you PRACTICE every day.

Nine months after having a baby, I was rather out of practice, so I set a clear intention to remedy that. Over the past year, I’ve noticed the theme of “honest and gentle” coming up again and again in my practice as well as in my trainings. My first yoga teacher (coincidentally, also named Mary) often intoned, “honest and gentle.” It was a mantra that rang true with me then and slowly wove its way into my subconscious.  I have come to realize that everything I teach and (ideally!) everything I do and say is driven by this intention to be honest and gentle.

And so, a blog was born! The purpose of Honest and Gentle is to explore themes of empathy and compassion, how we live and communicate those ideas, informed by experience as well as research (I love me some data!). I’d like to share my experiences with you, and I think that pooling all of our experience is the best way to grow wisdom, so please do share your thoughts, your experiences, and your struggles in the comments.

If you serve others in your professional or personal life, if you are interested in personal development, and/or if you are interested in empathy, you are in the right place. If you’re reading this, you probably value living authentically. And that is not an easy path to walk. It takes courage and support. Let’s build up some community here and let’s all grow together!

I will be posting here every other week until the end of September, when I’ll move to posting once a week. (I warm up to new things slowly). If you’d like to be in touch before my next post, please contact me.

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