We are all Brothers and Sisters
I recently attended a very stirring event at the National Constitution Center: The Girl in the Picture: Remembering Vietnam that featured Kim Phùc Phan Thi. You probably don’t know her name, but you definitely have seen her. In an iconic and horrifying photo taken in Vietnam in 1973, she was the 9 year-old girl who was running naked and terrified after being burned by napalm.
Dr. Kim spoke about her experiences that occurred on that horrendous day, during the 14 months in the hospital and the16 surgeries that constituted her initial healing. She also spoke about where her life has taken her since that unforgettable horror. I was moved by the passion that she expressed over how her heart and soul had been healed through her faith.
In 1996, she had the opportunity to meet one of the US airmen responsible for her bombing. She discussed how he asked for forgiveness in his words and through the pain in his eyes, and she willingly gave it. They hugged and held each other. Each had suffered a distinct and severe pain, and they felt a strong connection, considering themselves brother and sister. They remain in contact to this day and are still close. Dr. Kim noted that she prays daily for the pilot of that plane.
I sat there stunned, amazed by Dr. Kim’s level of forgiveness and grateful for its lessons. I’m still processing the emotions and messages of this event. When I feel things strongly or emotionally, I get goose bumps, and I had them all over my body.
Related to well-being, I have been thinking about how this all connects with self-compassion. Kristin Neff, in her wonderful book Self-Compassion: Stop Beating Yourself Up and Leave Insecurity Behind, writes about the 3 components of self-compassion: 1) being kind to oneself, 2) mindfulness of what one is experiencing and feeling, and 3) common humanity. While I’ll write more about self-compassion over time, “common humanity” is the idea that we are all in this together, in this crazy thing called life. We all suffer. We all feel pain. We are all human. When we suffer, we can feel isolated in our pain, as if everyone else is better off than we are.
In reality, we are all brothers and sisters, siblings, regardless of where we are from, our religion, how much money we have, who we love, our physical abilities, etc…. I believe when Dr. Kim forgave the man who was partly responsible for her bombing, she was able to see this clearly.
It’s so easy to be angry and to be isolated in our own silos by rage, seeing others as wrong, different, less than. I sat there in the audience and wondered if I would ever be able to forgive the person who bombed me. I honestly don’t know if I could. I think about all of the small ways that I get angry, that I hold grudges, and that I feel wronged. All the ways that I “other” people who have different political beliefs than I do.
While I regularly do work hard to connect with others, to be genuine and kind, to be open to moments of love and humanity, I often fall short because I am human. Seeing Dr. Kim speak and hearing her message, inspired me to continue working to see another less as “the other” and more as “me”.
I had a great time last week speaking to the Neuroscience Graduate students at the University of Pennsylvania! I did a workshop on Imposter Syndrome and spoke about the 5 Competence Types and 8 ways to combat imposter syndrome. Imposter Syndrome affects 70% of us at least at some point in our lives, so we can all relate!
We humans have a pre-programmed tendency to focus on the negatives and to scan our environment for problems. These skills helped us survive in the more dangerous past, but in the present, they can contribute to higher levels of anxious and depressive symptoms.
While this may be our fallback approach to life, it can be reprogrammed. Working to attend to the positives in our life, and especially to micro-moments of feeling love, can really help us have a more positive sense of self.
As we go through life, we have numerous opportunities each day to connect and feel loved. Love in the general sense, not necessarily romantic love, can be enormously helpful for our sense of well-being. When we share a moment with a neighbor. When a friend expresses her concern for us. When we laugh at something on the subway and catch a fellow passenger’s eye also laughing with us. When we think of how we love our partner. All these moments help us feel more positive and connected in the world and in our life.
A recent study shows one reason why this can be so helpful for our well-being (Oravecz et al., Personality and Individual Differences, 2020). In this study, 200+ people were surveyed (at 6 random times a day) to get a sense of when and how they felt love and how this impacted their psychological wellness. The researchers found that people who experienced higher awareness of moments of love and connection in everyday life had significantly higher levels of psychological well-being. These individuals also felt more of a sense of purpose and were more optimistic.
Additionally, these researchers found that as the subjects paid more attention to moments of love in their lives, they increased their awareness of love in their daily lives. Paying attention to something positive snowballs in a wonderful way. As we pay more attention to this thing, we notice it more and experience it more. Which leads to us paying attention to it more….
So, feel the love in your life. Look for those small moments when you connect with someone, when you share a moment, when you feel loved by or cared for about someone. Let these feelings into your heart and really let yourself experience them. As you feel the love more, you will have a greater sense of well-being and be more open to these special moments that happen regularly in our lives.
-Track moments when you feel loved throughout the day. Either keep a small notebook with you to jot these times down, or track it on your phone.
-Keep a Love Journal. Each night, right before you go to sleep, write in a small notebook you keep next to your bed. Record at least three moments from the day when you felt loved. Take at least 20 seconds to feel this love and let it really sink in. This is a lovely way to end the day, and it has you attend to these incidents during the day.
-Be open to people in your world as you go through your day. If you often wear ear buds, at least at times, leave them out and hear the sounds of life around you. If you tend to be on your phone, turn it off sometimes or leave it at home. Pay for items with an actual cashier instead of using the self-check line. Choose to engage in life. Be more aware of people and the opportunities you have to feel love and connection.