Empathy is seeing with another’s eyes, hearing with another’s ears, feeling with another’s heart – Alfred Adler, psychiatrist.
You demonstrate empathy, said psychiatrist Alfred Adler, when you really work at listening.
Any talking you do has one purpose – to understand what the other person is saying; feel what the other is feeling.
At Christmas time, “active listening” – the term Adler gave this form of communication – could be the best present someone ever got.
Teesha Sharma knows how important active listeners can be to a young person in crisis. She’s a mental health worker, and the force behind the Blue Door Youth Services in Maple Ridge. It’s an organization aimed at developing a youth mentorship program here.
Today, I’m watching her vision grow. Sharma’s conducting a mentorship training workshop at the CEED Centre for 14 local citizens who’ve answered her call to attend. She wants these adults to devote a little quality time each week to a youth at risk of homelessness, teens dealing with abuse or mental illness.
“I’m pleased,” Sharma told me later, “that several men are here. There’s a big need for male role for boys in Maple Ridge.”
Sharma’s identified 14 kids – boys and girls – who could use mentors. They’re dealing with problems like depression, anxiety, eating disorders, suicidal thoughts, and even post traumatic stress disorder. She knows what they’re going through.
“Memories can trigger PTSD for me,” she tells us. “When you’re all alone in the world, when you’ve lost all sense of self-worth and self-esteem, life seems hopeless. At 15, I was homeless. I remember three nights in Maple Ridge Park, thinking nobody cares.”
The Child and Youth Mental Health and Substance Use Collaborative is advocating for a local clinic devoted to youth, but the psychological needs of kids at risk can’t wait. They need as much help as much empathy as they can get now, especially after the former federal government – by defunding overnight shelters for youth – forced closure of the Iron Horse Safe House.
Sharma’s long-term goal is to create a new facility. A mentorship program is a good turn down the right road for this community, which is blessed by folks like those here today. They’re directors of CEED, teachers, parents, business people. They bring wisdom, skills to share, the goal of building a better place to live, and empathy.
Mentors will do a lot for the kid they’re paired with. They’ll be role models, help these kids set realistic goals, and integrate with society in a variety of positive ways. Self-esteem and confidence will grow as kids connect with their mentor and their peers.
“Just saying, ‘I’m here for you,’ can be powerful and effective,” says Sharma.
To be healthy mentally, said Adler, you have to feel you belong in society and, eventually, give back to it.
When governments decide what programs to fund, that should be their criteria. At-risk kids will make contributions to society when it loves them. Sharma is living proof of that.
Recently, she shared a personal story with Christian Cowley and I.
“I’ve never told you this, Christian,” she began. “I had visited all the organizations I could think of that might be able to help me get this program started before I knocked on your door. You didn’t know me, and I didn’t have an appointment, but you stopped what you were doing, got me a chair, and talked to me. It was something nobody else had done. You cared. I could see that. That was really emotional for me.”
Cowley has been an empathetic listener as long as I’ve known him. He looks at you. When you talk, you have his uninterrupted attention. He works to understand what you’re saying and feeling. He’s an active listener.
Sharma would like more volunteers for her program.
– Jack Emberly is a retired teacher, local author and environmentalist.