Tag Archives: Brene Brown

Human Connection and the Power of Empathy


This post is part of the August synchroblog and the theme is “connection”.

When I think about connection I am reminded that significant, deep, meaningful connection with others is what I want most out of life. I think it is what most people desire. And yet there are times when we find the pursuit of connection daunting.

Brene’ Brown, who researches, writes, teaches and speaks on a range of topics, including connection, vulnerability, courage, worthiness, and shame says,

“Connection is why we’re here. It’s what gives purpose and meaning to our lives,”

She goes on to define connection as:

“the energy that exists between people when they feel seen, heard, and valued; when they can give and receive without judgment; and when they derive sustenance and strength from the relationship.”

In her books, Brown develops the idea that creating the kind of life giving connection that we are wired for requires empathy and then she drops this on us:

“we can only create a genuine empathic connection if we are brave enough to really get in touch with our own fragilities.”

Boom! There’s the problem, isn’t it!?

In order to experience the kind of connection that we long for we are going to have to put ourselves out there. We are going to have to be vulnerable and take some risks. We are going to have to share our own fears and failings and fragilities.

And we can’t substitute sympathy for empathy. Sympathy isn’t a bad thing – it just doesn’t lead to the deep, meaningful connections we long for – for that we are going to need to “feel with people”.

Here’s the difference in sympathy and empathy:

Empathy is the ability to mutually experience the thoughts, emotions, and direct experience of others. It goes beyond sympathy, which is a feeling of care and understanding for the suffering of others. 

The RSA (Royal Society for the encouragement of Arts, Manufactures and Commerce), an enlightenment organisation committed to finding innovative practical solutions to today’s social challenges, created a great animated short that uses Brene’ Brown’s commentary about empathy and how it leads to connection:

If we can learn to be vulnerable enough to risk practicing empathy we open up the potential to experience the kind of life giving, whole hearted, healing connection we long for.

Empathy is connection!

Be sure and check out these other posts for this month’s synchroblog:

Jerry Wirtley – Connection
Sara Quezada – Can You Really Know Someone In A Different Language?
Ford – Interindependence
Michael Donahoe – Connection
Minnow – Our Dis-Connect
Justin Steckbauer – Connection in Love, it’s what Life is all about!
Carol Kuniholm – Disengagement and Connection
Wesley Rostoll – Finding Jesus In Different Places
Doreen A Mannion – A bunny, a fawn and some geese walk into a bar …
Leah Sophia – Touch of Life
Karen “Charity” Aldrich – Wuv True Wuv
Abbie Watters – Connection – Addicted to the Buzz
Liz Dyer – Human Connection and the Power of Empathy
Loveday Anyim – Why Get Connected to God when He can’t be there for Me?

I Wonder What Would Happen

(The above video features the song Brave by Sara Bareilles)

This post is a contribution to the June Synchroblog: Ordinary Courage in which bloggers are invited to share their thoughts and stories about ordinary courage.

“Heroics are often about putting our life on the line. Ordinary courage is about putting our vulnerability on the line.” –  Brené Brown

For the record, I am a huge fan of Brené Brown.  I could spend my whole post telling you about her, her great Ted talks, her great books, her great ideas but instead I will just confess that everything in this post is inspired by her.  AND I encourage you to check her out if you haven’t already done so by clicking on some links in this paragraph.

In her new book, Daring Greatly: How the Courage to Be Vulnerable Transforms the Way We Live, Love, Parent, and Lead, Brené harkened back to a speech that Teddy Roosevelt gave in 1910. In it, Roosevelt said:

It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better.The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again,because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause;who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly.”

I absolutely love that quote and I find it very inspirational but to be honest, I  have a hard time thinking of myself as brave or courageous.  The truth is I have a lot of fears.  Sickness, unemployment, accidents, violence, financial woes, rejection, failure, aging, not fitting in, being misunderstood and more that I am sure I will think of later.  Not only do I have these fears, I am even afraid to talk about the fears that I have.  But I’m finding out that being afraid does not disqualify one from being brave or courageous.  The crazy and wonderful thing is I might have fears but I can still be brave.  I can still walk into the arena, I can still take the chance of getting marred, of falling down or coming up short.  I might be afraid, I might even fail, but I can be brave, I can dare greatly.  What a revelation!  I don’t have to wait until I am no longer afraid before I get in the arena.

One thing that helps me go ahead even when I am afraid is playing the “I Wonder What Would Happen” scenario out in my head.

I wonder what would happen if I stay silent, I wonder what would happen if I speak up, I wonder what would happen if I make the first move, I wonder what would happen if I wait on someone else to make the first move, I wonder what would happen if I actually think about my fears, I wonder what would happen if I try to ignore and suppress my fears, I wonder what would happen if I try now, I wonder what would happen if I wait until I’m “better” “smarter” “have more experience” “older” “less busy” before I try.

You get the idea.  I try to imagine the worst, the best, the possible, the probable.  But I don’t just imagine it.  I find someone to talk it out with.  Not just anyone, but someone who I can trust to be honest but gentle with me, someone who really cares about me and knows me as a whole person, someone who I believe wants and celebrates good things for me.  It really does help me live beyond my fears.


Sometimes that means being kinder and gentler with myself, sometimes it means pushing myself to do something that makes my heart beat too fast, sometimes it means coming along side someone else who is struggling or experiencing failure and reminding them how brave they were for even trying.  Sometimes it means doing something that I might fail at or asking for what I need when I don’t like to be the one who is needing.  

There are days when I think, “to heck with it! What’s so important about being brave and courageous?”

And then I remember that I want to be brave and courageous because I like being and feeling alive.  I want to get into the arena because if I try to avoid all possible pain I will also most likely be avoiding the possibility of joy and happiness.  I want to show up and try because I want to make a difference in my little part of the world, in my community, in my workplace, in my family.  I want to take a chance because I only have one life to spend and I want to spend it.

Sometimes my acts of bravery are nothing more than me getting the courage to do something new like snorkel in the ocean for the first time.  Boy, am I glad I showed up for that one. Talking about feeling alive and experiencing joy and happiness.

Sometimes my acts of bravery are trying something like blogging without worrying what others will think about me and my posts and ideas; and simply doing it because of the pleasure and healing and insight it brings to my own life.

Sometimes my acts of bravery are more about others such as when I stopped being silent about my support for lgbtq people, same sex marriage and complete equality, and sharing my new and revised understanding of what scripture has to say on the subject.

Sometimes my acts of bravery are healing like when I share my own failures and fears out loud.  They are healing to me because in sharing them they shrink in size and power and at the same time they are healing to others because as they encourage me they encourage their own self to know: they aren’t alone, their story hasn’t ended yet, they too can get back up again.

I think we all have something that keeps us from being brave and the most logical one to think of is fear but I’ve been discovering another obstacle to me being brave that may even be bigger than my fears and that is perfectionism.

Yes, I am a perfectionist.  I’d like to say a recovering perfectionist but most of the time that wouldn’t be true.  At the same time I am trying to keep the perfectionism subdued these days and sometimes I am winning the struggle.

I no longer take days to write a short post for my blog.  I don’t wait for others to make the first move.  I’m letting go of the idea of “the perfect holiday” “the perfect mother” “the perfect wife” “the perfect marriage” “the perfect anything”.  I’m finding some humor and even goodness in my imperfections.  I’m finally beginning to enjoy my humanity.  I’m starting to like “me”.

But mostly, I am finding that the best antidote to perfectionism is finally believing that I (me! – not me the mother, or me the wife, or me the good writer or idea person or wise thinker, or me the best friend, or me the employee who is always on time or a great team player or the one with the best attitude – just me) am worthy of love and acceptance!!!  My worthiness is not attached to how good I am at doing something, or to how good I look, or how much I succeed.  My worthiness just “is”.


Sure I have trouble believing it some days but some days I do believe it and some days I don’t even have to try and believe it … I just do.

When I am not so caught up in being perfect I can more easily show up and be me and I am discovering that I am better at being me than most other things!

I wonder what would happen if we all tried really hard to just be ourself?



——————————————————————————————————————————————————————————————————————————————————————————————————————————————————————————————————————————————————————————————————————————————————————————————————-Here is the list of all the contributions to this month’s synchroblog.  I hope you will take the time to read these great thoughts and stories on Ordinary Courage:

This Is Courage by Jen Bradbury

Being Vulnerable by Phil Lancaster

Everyday Bravery: Overcoming the Fear of Being Wrong by Jessica

Moving Forward Takes Courage by Paul W. Meier

How to Become a Flasher by Glenn Hager

Ordinary Courage by Elaine Hansen

Courage, Hope, Generosity by Carol Kuniholm

The Courage to Fail by Wendy McCaig

The Greatest Act of Courage by Jeremy Myers

Sharing One’s Heart by K. W. Leslie

All I See Is Rocks by Tim Nichols

I Wonder What Would Happen by Liz Dyer

What is Ordinary Courage? by Jennifer Stahl

Loving Courageously by Doreen A. Mannion

Heart Cry: The Courage to Confess by Elizabeth Chapin

The Act to the Miraculous by VisionHub

the spiritual practice of showing up & telling the truth by Kathy Escobar

It’s What We Teach by Margaret Boelman

PS I chose the video above because it featured Sara Bareilles’ song Brave and I thought it fit this theme so well.  Be sure and check it out.   Here are the lyrics:

You can be amazing
You can turn a phrase into a weapon or a drug
You can be the outcast
Or be the backlash of somebody’s lack of love
Or you can start speaking up
Nothing’s gonna hurt you the way that words do
And they settle ‘neath your skin
Kept on the inside and no sunlight
Sometimes a shadow wins
But I wonder what would happen if you

Say what you wanna say
And let the words fall out
Honestly I wanna see you be brave

With what you want to say
And let the words fall out
Honestly I wanna see you be brave

I just wanna see you
I just wanna see you
I just wanna see you
I wanna see you be brave

I just wanna see you
I just wanna see you
I just wanna see you
I wanna see you be brave

Everybody’s been there, everybody’s been stared down
By the enemy
Fallen for the fear and done some disappearing
Bow down to the mighty
Don’t run, stop holding your tongue
Maybe there’s a way out of the cage where you live
Maybe one of these days you can let the light in
Show me how big your brave is

Say what you wanna say
And let the words fall out
Honestly I wanna see you be brave

With what you want to say
And let the words fall out
Honestly I wanna see you be brave

Innocence, your history of silence
Won’t do you any good
Did you think it would?
Let your words be anything but empty
Why don’t you tell them the truth?

Say what you wanna say
And let the words fall out
Honestly I wanna see you be brave

With what you want to say
And let the words fall out
Honestly I wanna see you be brave

I just wanna see you
I just wanna see you
I just wanna see you
I wanna see you be brave

I just wanna see you
I just wanna see you
I just wanna see you
I wanna see you be brave

I just wanna see you
I just wanna see you
I just wanna see you
I wanna see you be brave

I just wanna see you
I just wanna see you
I just wanna see you