Community and Empathy

Snowflakes

Photo Credit: iStock.com/dibrova

As many of you know, my Dad has been unwell in recent months.  After 30 days of intense radiation, he underwent 16 hours of head and neck surgery last Thursday in Toronto.

My father is a smart, successful and proud man who has been lauded for his contributions as a corporate and community leader.  He is well-read, opinionated, and really stubborn.  It is, therefore, particularly excruciating to see him struggle.  In his current state of vulnerability, however, he continues to – inadvertently — mentor and teach me.   Throughout his cancer journey, for example, my family and I have been buoyed by the love and support of friends and colleagues who have overtly and repeatedly told us that we are not facing this alone.  It has reinforced for us that — particularly in times of turbulence — community matters.  We’ve also been reminded about the power of empathy.

Several years ago, a friend and colleague — Dr. Heather Lane — introduced me to a brilliant short video by Dr. Brené Brown titled:  “The Power of Empathy”.  In it, she talks about empathy as a driver of connection.  This distinguishes it from sympathy, which fuels disconnection.  Drawing on work done by Theresa Wiseman, a nursing scholar, Dr. Brown discusses four qualities of empathy:  perspective taking; staying out of judgment; recognizing emotion in others; and, communicating emotion.  She characterizes the demonstration of empathy as a brave choice that demands an acknowledgement of our own fragility.

With the holiday season fast approaching, I wanted to write a note of thanks for the genuine fellowship that I have experienced since my very first day on campus.  Particularly lately, it’s helped me and my family navigate some very choppy water.  I have often said that the warmth and generosity that characterizes Sheridan is unparalleled and must be safeguarded.

In that spirit and looking forward to 2018, I’m also writing to encourage all of us to seek purposeful, demonstrative opportunities to cultivate community and demonstrate empathy.  Based on personal experience, there is no more powerful antidote to the significant challenges we have all faced – individually and collectively – this fall.

Happy holidays to all of you and those you love.

Warmly,
Janet