Popsicle sticks have plenty of great uses. Prying open my eyelids is not one of them.
Try telling that to Edward PopsicleStickHands, boasting framed papers from Harvard and Columbia. His methods seemingly trump conventional wisdom.
I should have noticed him drop his bedside manners at the door when instead of “Hi I’m Dr. ____, nice to meet you,” I got “I hear you’re moving, so what are you [new patient] doing here?” in a tone more condescending than curious. As if I would be dinking around at the ophthalmologist on the eve of a move if I had another option.
It had been a Claritin summer. Allergic to Florida’s version of July. Allergic to dog-sitting. I was in a push-through-til-moving-day situation, when I could put the mold, ragweed and dander behind me.
Seems the drive would be the tricky part. I hadn’t factored in the sun.
The blasted brightness blinded me down to the pavement. I blinked my way through a week of life. My new soundtrack was “I wear my sunglasses at night.” Not just at night, but indoors, too. Outdoors in broad daylight? Two pairs of shades, stacked one atop the other. Even then, I drove with my hand as a visor, doing whatever I could to block the brightness. On the internet, “photosensitivity” is invariably followed by “contact your eye doctor immediately.” It wasn’t looking good for my starring role as driver-of-the-2nd-car for an 18 hour ride north.
So, when I should have been packing, I sat being quizzed “better: one or two?”
We went several rounds of him imitating a chopsticks newbie with my peepers as a bowl of chicken fried rice. “Wow, you really do have sensitive lids.” His 30 years of experience had met their match.
It should have been comical when he scolded me saying “I can’t help you if you can’t keep your eyes open,” when my new patient paperwork’s “reason for visit” said, AND I QUOTE: “can’t keep my eyes open.”
In the end, I left with an out-of-stock Rx, a “free sample” that somehow cost me $25, unsolicited advice on cosmetic surgery and a rather unclear understanding of my diagnosed condition, learned only by eavesdropping on his dictation.
The doc had done his job. He went about his routine, carried out his technical training and enlisted his recognition and recall memory to analyze my condition. Bravo.
But, he forgot one major thing. The other person in the room.
Her story. Her pain. Her complaints. Her plight. Her hopes. Her circumstances. Her needs. Her limitations. Her pleas. Her perspective.
This appointment wasn’t about eyes. It was about empathy. Well, lack thereof.
I know, because I do it, too.
I’m not a trained physician. I don’t get paid to diagnose and prescribe. But, I make similar omissions.
I look at life through one lens: my own. My perspective. My experience. My training. My desires. My convictions.
In doing so, I can miss the other person in the room.
Their story. Their pain. Their complaints. Their plight. Their hopes. Their circumstances. Their needs. Their limitations. Their pleas. Their perspective.
When I look through my lens and my lens only, it’s transactional. I’m not moving toward connection. I’m missing the point.
The ceiling is low on transactions. Connection is what allows people to partner toward discoveries, innovation, friendships, hope and resolution. And yes, connection is crucial even between paid professionals and clients.
But, connection requires involving the other person in the room. Connection requires empathy.
As a skill, empathy takes practice and intentionality. But anyone can learn it.
I can’t be empathetic from my own perch. I have to move over and see life from the other person’s viewpoint. See what they are seeing.
Then, I have to leave my own judgments out of the picture. They don’t help connect. Judgments don’t keep me on top of situations nor give me clarity. Just the opposite. They narrow the view, short-circuit empathy and hot-wire disconnection.
With judgments boxed out and my vantage point shifted to an “others-angle-lens,” I need to relate to the emotion. I don’t need to relate to their specific situation (which could even be distracting or detracting). Just to the emotion. (e.g. if someone feels fearful, I don’t need to have the same fears or even agree fear is warranted. I just need to tap into how fear makes me feel and to relate to their emotion.)
Empathy re-positions me behind someone else’s binoculars, resists judgments and relates to the emotion.
Practicing this brings connection.
I’m practicing it and hopefully improving.
I can only hope Dr. PopsicleStickHands will do the same.