AC4P with Dr. Scott Geller 002 | Empathy

Worry. Sadness. Grief. Overwhelmed. Isolated. Confused. Anger. Anxiety.

These are just a handful of emotions I have heard (or felt) first-hand and read on social media within the last two weeks. As humans, and in a world of social media and anonymity,  emotions can be expressed all too easily.  Let's face it, EMPATHY is HARD, but a necessary skill to practice on a daily basis. Join Dr. Scott Geller as he talks about empathy and how and why we should be more empathetic to continue to learn to ACTIVELY CARE FOR PEOPLE.



Dr. Scott Geller (00:00):

I want to talk about empathy. Wow, this is such an important word. Empathy, not the same as sympathy. We might sympathize with someone that is, we feel sorry for them, but empathy is when we really try to put ourselves in their situation. You know, perhaps we wouldn't blame people, we wouldn't be so negative towards others if we just took time to realize their position, their situation. Let me teach you, perhaps you've heard about five levels of listening, five levels. You know, people who say, well, you got two ears and one mouth. We ought to do a better job at listening. Well, let's talk about listening at the bottom level of listening, we have ignore. Sometimes we simply ignore people. Children often feel ignored. I mean, you know, they want your attention, but we're too busy, so they get ignored. The next level of listening better than ignored, but not much better is pretend.

Dr. Scott Geller (01:31):

I mean, we, not our heads, you know, students in my class, they're nodding their heads, but they're thinking about something else. They're just pretending better than ignore, but better than pretend is selective listening. That's the most common kind of listening. You know, we listen from our own perspective. You know, we listen with our own biases, our own experience. Have you ever heard the term selective perception, frankly, that is redundant. All perception is selective. I mean, we sense our world, we see our world, but then we interpret the world and that's called perception. So all perception is selective. You know, you've heard the term confirmation bias. You talk to a Republican or you talk to a Democrat. They see the world from their own perspective. And it's tough to change people when they have confirmation bias, better than selective put aside our biases, you know, and try to really listen attentively.

Dr. Scott Geller (02:47):

That's when we really pay attention to what the other person is saying, and we try not to react. But at the top, at the top of the scale is empathic listening. And again, as I said in the beginning, empathic listening is when you try to see it from their perspective, you try to see the situation as they see it, by the way, this is not easy and this is not efficient. It's effective communication, but it's not efficient. It takes time. Let me tell you how I learned about empathic listening in 1974 long time ago, I was a young professor at Virginia Tech and I was teaching a class of introductory psychology, 400 students. And in those days they wrote their exams in blue books. Maybe some of you remember blue books. I mean, we used to give out the blue books. In those days, we were more effective at teaching cause they had to write discussion exams.

Dr. Scott Geller (03:54):

They had to write out exam questions. Now, of course we're more efficient. We have multiple choice and I have 600 in the class, but in those days, 1974, 400 students, this was the third exam of the semester. The exam started at 10 o'clock, it's over in 50 minutes, 10 to 11. So they're writing in their blue books, the exam, it is now 10 to 11. I clapped my hands. All right class, exam is over. Bring up your blue books. The class stood up, 400 students, ah except for one. So 400 students are bringing their blue books up front, laying on the stage, except one dude in the back, he continues to write in his blue book. I'm standing there watching him, you know, the students dropping their exams, their blue books on the stage. And this guy continues to write and very boldly sitting back there and writing in his blue book, I'm saying to myself, cheater, see that was my selective perception.

Dr. Scott Geller (05:04):

My cognitive bias I'm labeling him before I really know. So now it's 11 o'clock and I'm collecting, at least I'm about to collect the blue books from the stage. And this student comes running up waving his blue book. Professor Geller, professor Geller, please don't forget my blue book. And I looked him square in the eyes and I said, keep it son. He said what? I said, yes, you cheated. The exam was over 10 minutes ago. But you continue to write it in your blue book. I can't take your blue book. It wouldn't be fair to the rest of the class. And then he said, well, what if I just erased everything I wrote in the last 10 minutes? Well, he said, would that be fair? And I said yeah, if I trusted you, would you try to beat the system once you'll try to beat the system again, I can't take your blue book.

Dr. Scott Geller (06:07):

And besides I said to him, I said, you're probably working to avoid failure, aren't you? You're not a success seeker. You're a failure avoider. And he said, well, sir, I'm not exactly sure what you mean, but my mother will kill me if I flunk psychology, see that's failure avoiding. I said, son, I can't take your blue book. His head was down. And he started to walk out of the classroom. He got about halfway through and he turned on his heels and he ran up to this stage with an air of confidence that I could not believe and he said, sir, do you know who I am? I said, son, no. I said, there are 400 students. I don't know who you are. And I don't know rightly care. Good! He took his blue book and threw it on the pile with all the rest and ran out of the classroom.

Dr. Scott Geller (07:01):

Yeah. How many have heard that before? You know that story that happened to me in 1974, by the way, Johnny Carson told my story on the tonight show. He's the guy that proceeded Jay Leno and now we have Jimmy Fallon, but he told my story, but that's not the whole story. Remember I said, this story taught me empathy. So he's running out of the classroom thinking he beat the system, but I was young and fast in those days I saw his blue book, I got his blue book. I pulled it from the pile. I know who he is. Now, when I tell this story, I ask my students, what should I do? What would you do? I mean, I'll tell you what I was going to do. What I knew I had to do. I had to flunk him. In fact, I was thinking about it.

Dr. Scott Geller (07:56):

It made me feel good. I'm the manager of this class, you know, and I know his name and it was about a 10 minute walk back to my office. And I started thinking about pulling out the drawer, the file drawer and finding his name. We didn't have computers in those days. We had to use paper and looking up his name, big F next to his name. But on the way, back to my office, about a 10 minute walk, it hit me. I realized that that conversation was totally one way. Suppose he wasn't cheating. Suppose he didn't know that was the end of the exam, I mean, this has all hit me as I'm walking back to my office, I'm saying, you know, that was a one way conversation my way or the highway. I did not find out what he was thinking. What were his intentions?

Dr. Scott Geller (08:49):

Is it possible that he was actually going beyond the call of duty? Is it possible that he wasn't sneaking around? He was sitting boldly in the back of the room, writing answers. I graded that exam. He got a B plus the next exam was a final exam and he got an A, and he was the first one to hand it in that day, he got an A- in the class and the kid majored in psychology. If I had flunked him that day, from my perspective, without trying to find out where he was coming from, would he have majored in psychology? Is it possible that one supervisor, one teacher, one coach can turn us off to the behavior, to the performance. Might he have then selected a different major, become an engineer and made more money. The bottom line is I did not have empathy that day, 1974. I remember it like it was yesterday and now I realize I've got to be more empathic.


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