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Empathy and Silence: Being Available to Others in Times of Crisis

Updated on December 19, 2017
pstraubie48 profile image

Patricia is a mother, a grandmother, a sister, a daughter whose passion is to put into writing things she feels and experiences .

Have you not noticed that love is silence? It may be while holding the hand of another, or looking lovingly at a child, or taking in the beauty of an evening...."

— Jiddu Krishnamurti

My eldest sister with me

My eldest sister just wants someone to listen.
My eldest sister just wants someone to listen. | Source

Empathy and silence in tandem can be salve that eases the raw edges when a friend or loved one is faced with a crisis.

By definition empathy is the ability to understand and share the feelings of another.

While we may not be able to put ourselves exactly in the position that another person is feeling we can to some degree understand their pain or fear or frustration. We may have experienced a situation that was similar to the one they face which helps us to internalize how the person feels.

Sounds to calm and soothe

Silence is better than unmeaning words.

---

— Pythgoras

Down by the waters finding a time for reflection

St. Augustine Florida
St. Augustine Florida | Source

Empathy is about finding echoes of another person in yourself.

— Moshin Hamid

Being present is often all that is needed

Are you comfortable sitting with someone in complete silence?

Can you find the power that it offers? Often when we are visiting with a friend or family member who is struggling with an issue, we are inclined to ramble on hoping that we may say something that will help in some way.

And sometimes, bingo, we are successful and one phrase or word touches their heart and mind.

Other times our words are falling on deaf ears as the lovely person in need struggles to make sense of the situation Sometimes just giving them a chance to speak and being willing to listen is spot on.

Silence is one of the great arts of conversation.

— Marcus Tullius Cicero

Silence can truly be just what is needed

Many times that is just what the person really wants---to be heard. The need is for you to listen. The silence from you so that words (and perhaps tears) flow forth in an uninterrupted stream of consciousness is often needed.

You are not being asked to fix their problem usually. You are simply being asked to hear and perhaps to feel ...to identify with the feelings being expressed.

And chances are empathy will kick in. As was stated previously, you may not have experienced exactly what this person is facing but you very probably have had a challenge that may mirror the one that is being shared.

Listening without commenting or editorializing often is so very powerful.

Each of us has been blessed to be on the receiving end of someone's listening, caring ear

Me, Tracy (Heston's Daddy) , Stef (my daughter, Heston's Momma)
Me, Tracy (Heston's Daddy) , Stef (my daughter, Heston's Momma) | Source

For example....this was a crisis to this parent

For three years, in a small school tucked in a very poor section of Daytona Beach, I served as a parent advocate. I held workshops, raised monies through grants, made many many home visits, picked up parents for meetings and parent conferences, ad infinitum.

We had a parent center where parents were invited to come to get information or learn computer skills or take GED classes (which was made possible by one of my grants...which thrilled me).

One morning a parent came in to attend one of the GED classes. But first she sat down and began to rail and rant and rave about this horrible teacher and all she had done, is now doing, and will probably do in the future.

I listened. No words. Just listening and maintaining eye contact.

And when she was finished. She felt better. She was calm. All she wanted was for someone to listen. She felt her concerns had previously fallen on deaf ears. So by acknowledging that she was upset and allowing her to share how she felt, the situation was diffused. And she no longer wanted to go down to the classroom and hit the teacher over the head with a baseball bat. Good thing!!!

The teacher was advised of the concerns and a meeting was arranged for the end of that same day while I went in a taught her class. The two met and discussion ensued.

The power of silence is deafening!!!

“Too often we underestimate the power of a touch, a smile, a kind word, a listening ear, an honest compliment, or the smallest act of caring, all of which have the potential to turn a life around.”

― Leo F. Buscaglia

— Leo buscaglia

Often on this walk, we find that 'stuff' happens...unplanned, unwanted, frightening, life-changing experiences come our way that may turn our lives upside down.

  • a death...sudden or expected
  • a divorce
  • a diagnosis of a life-threatening illness
  • financial disasters
  • natural disaster such as hurricanes and earthquakes
  • misunderstandings or difficulties with educators
  • and on and on....

Having to deal with them often is troublesome.

Reach out today....it will make all the difference

Take time to listen

It is very likely that your life or the life of someone very close to you has experienced one of the situations mentioned above.

Having endured such experiences may cause you to be able to be more empathetic toward others. As we know that is not always the case. Sometimes there are individuals who become cynical and jaded by having endured such experiences. I cannot be critical of those who have. We all have our own take on how we walk this walk on this planet.

For me offering my time and my ears with my mouth shut to someone who needs a listening ear costs me nothing and hopefully gives some relief to someone else who is suffering. It lets that person know someone cares. It lets them know someone understands. It lets them know they are not alone.

Solitude and nature's beauty soothes us often like no other salve can do

Source

Knowing when...

Knowing when to be silent is not something we learn. It is an innate ability. It happens often when it is most needed.

When sitting at the bedside of a beloved church member two years ago, we chatted very briefly. It was two days before her death. We knew she was very close to death so we all rallied around and took turns visiting her.

When I went I carried a soft stuffed puppy and told her when she felt pain she could snuggle with it. We spoke briefly and I sat there, holding her hand for a bit. No more words needed to be said. I sat for a while and then when she opened her eyes, I squeezed her hand, and said I would see her again.

No words. Just being there. I hope when it is my time, that someone will know they do not need to chatter on and on...just to come and touch my hand for a bit...just be there.

Entering into a place of quiet and calm provides time for quiet reflection

Source

Being available

My eldest sister is in a home for seniors. She requires pretty much availability to round the clock care. She can get out of bed and do things for herself but mainly travels around in a wheelchair.


She lives about two hours from me so I do not get to see her too often. But when I do I take her out to lunch. She enjoys it very much but most of her conversation centers around the fact that she is not really happy where she is. This person does that and that person does this and so on. And I totally understand.

I listen. I do not editorialize on what she is saying. She needs to say it. She needs to be heard. And while I can change nothing, I can hear her and let her know that I do care.

It is hard for me (she does not know this) to leave her there. I only hope that she receives some measure of pleasure from my visits.

Listening and caring...empathizing with her. I do not know how she feels...but I can imagine.

It was a commercial....but it brought the message home....

Take time to reach out ....

Some years ago there was a commercial that said...."reach out and touch someone".

If you are taking the time to be available to listen and feel empathy for another that is what you are doing...you are reaching out and touching someone. The effects of the time you spend may not be clearly evident to you but they are very real and very important to those on the receiving end.

I know because I have been blessed and continue to be blessed to be on the receiving end of such actions. And it means more than any words can adequately express.

The next time someone reaches out to you...be it a friend or family member....try not to be too busy or to tell them you will get with them later....make the time then to offer your support by listening and showing you care. It can be life-altering.

© 2017 Patricia Scott

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    • pstraubie48 profile image
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      Patricia Scott 4 days ago from sunny Florida

      Thank you Peggy...and know that I think of you often. I have a few letters to write and you are on the list...hope you are feeling some better after your loss....I really do get it. take care of you and yours. Angels are on the way ps

    • pstraubie48 profile image
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      Patricia Scott 4 days ago from sunny Florida

      Thank you...had a wonderful visit over on the gulf coast at Christmas time and got to be silly. My Momma was such a good listener for our family. I think that was the beginning of me learning to listen more. Make no mistake I have not perfected it but am much better. Hoping al is good with you....and Happy New Year..Angels are headed your way this evening ps

    • pstraubie48 profile image
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      Patricia Scott 4 days ago from sunny Florida

      You are absolutely correct....and thank you for stopping...I hope you had a lovely Christmas and that 2018 is wonderful for you Angels are on the way once again ps

    • pstraubie48 profile image
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      Patricia Scott 4 days ago from sunny Florida

      O Catherine...that is so me....Ms. Fix-it...but I am trying to hush more and keep my ears open. thank you so much for stopping. Angels are headed your way this evening ps

    • Peggy W profile image

      Peggy Woods 10 days ago from Houston, Texas

      Just checking in and hoping that you had a wonderful Christmas with your family. Hoping that this new year will bring you much happiness.

    • FlourishAnyway profile image

      FlourishAnyway 2 weeks ago from USA

      The sentiments you expressed here were lovely and full of compassion. Silence and empathy, a hug, just sitting with someone, can often be very valuable. And by the way, I love that profile photo with the snowman hat!

    • Shyron E Shenko profile image

      Shyron E Shenko 4 weeks ago from Texas

      I have often heard it said that silence is golden

      But silence speaks volumes

      Silence speaks of someone who cares enough to listen

      Silence is the loudest whisper never heard

      Bringing comfort without a word.

      Blessings always to you my friend

      Merry Christmas

    • CatherineGiordano profile image

      Catherine Giordano 4 weeks ago from Orlando Florida

      Thank you so much for this essay. It is exactly what I need to learn. I can't just listen to a problem: I NEED to fix it. Perhaps I have too much empathy. I have to fix it because I can't bear it. I need to work on silence and listening.

    • pstraubie48 profile image
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      Patricia Scott 5 weeks ago from sunny Florida

      Learning to be silent and just be there for someone is something I have tried to get better at.

      Thank you for stopping to comment. Angels are on the way to you today ps

    • pstraubie48 profile image
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      Patricia Scott 5 weeks ago from sunny Florida

      That is a memorable verse for sure. Learning new things every day even at my age. Thank you for stopping to visit and comment. Angels are on the way to you today ps

    • pstraubie48 profile image
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      Patricia Scott 5 weeks ago from sunny Florida

      You obviously have set a great example for them. And holding hands with an elderly person speaks volumes...I felt so blessed at the times when I was there holding a hand when a beloved friend or family member left the planet. Angels are on the way to you today ps

    • pstraubie48 profile image
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      Patricia Scott 5 weeks ago from sunny Florida

      It is very freeing. Not having to fill the gaps of time with chatter.

      Angels are on the way to you this evening ps

    • pstraubie48 profile image
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      Patricia Scott 5 weeks ago from sunny Florida

      Not so sure about that....I am working on it for sure. thank you for stopping to read and comment. Angels are on the way to you ps

    • pstraubie48 profile image
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      Patricia Scott 5 weeks ago from sunny Florida

      It has been a learning curve for me...I used to think I needed to prattle on and on but found out how comforting silent moments can be. thank you for visiting...Angels are on the way this evening ps

    • pstraubie48 profile image
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      Patricia Scott 5 weeks ago from sunny Florida

      Thank you Dora. I keep reminding myself too. Wishing you a very Merry Christmas. Angels are on the way to you this evening. ps

    • pstraubie48 profile image
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      Patricia Scott 5 weeks ago from sunny Florida

      Thank you for stopping to read, Linda. It was important for me to write this as it made me stop and think. Angels are on the way to you this evening ps

    • pstraubie48 profile image
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      Patricia Scott 5 weeks ago from sunny Florida

      O it is my fun hat for this time of the year...I wore it last year too. The reason it was on my head in this photo was that we had our town parade and activity day on the 2nd and I knew I could be silly and get away with it. Know dear lady that Angels are once again on the way to Houston. ps

    • Peggy W profile image

      Peggy Woods 5 weeks ago from Houston, Texas

      Forgot to mention your cheery hat donned for this Christmas season of year. That is undoubtedly bringing cheer to many faces along with your smile. Wishing you and your family a blessed Christmas season this year.

    • pstraubie48 profile image
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      Patricia Scott 5 weeks ago from sunny Florida

      Thank you for stopping by, Randi. Just so thankful for those who know the beauty of silence and have shared moments with me when I needed it most. Hoping all is good with you and yours. Sending Angels your way this morning ps

    • pstraubie48 profile image
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      Patricia Scott 5 weeks ago from sunny Florida

      You are so right..many do not know what to say in a crisis time...I have been in that situation too many times...and somehow I have learned and have been told by those to whom I visited that just being there to hold a hand and give a hug is so much more important than most words I can say. Thank you so much Peggy for your meaningful comment....and please know that blessings and many Angels are headed your way...I know you offered the helping hands and kindness during the recent hurricane... no doubt those to whom you offered your ear and your love are feeling it even today. ps

    • pstraubie48 profile image
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      Patricia Scott 5 weeks ago from sunny Florida

      Frank....I have felt the love of someone who has sat with me when I faced a crisis...just being able to hold the hand or receive the hug, no words, made that salve calm my soul. Thank you so much for stopping to comment. Angels once again are on the way ps

    • pstraubie48 profile image
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      Patricia Scott 5 weeks ago from sunny Florida

      Hoping all is well with you and yours....Merry Christmas . Angels are on the way to you ps

    • Frank Atanacio profile image

      Frank Atanacio 5 weeks ago from Shelton

      wow.. couldn't help but to feel a real tug inside of me.. also love this line: Empathy and silence in tandem can be salve that eases the raw edges when a friend or loved one is faced with a crisis.

    • pstraubie48 profile image
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      Patricia Scott 5 weeks ago from sunny Florida

      Your remarks are well taken..I too wish more people had more time for others...I do not think it is because they do not want to be there it is just that they think or believe they do not have the time. We need to slow down don't we? Thank you for stopping. Angels are on the way this morning ps

    • pstraubie48 profile image
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      Patricia Scott 5 weeks ago from sunny Florida

      Thank you so much....I am deeply touched by your words.

    • pstraubie48 profile image
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      Patricia Scott 5 weeks ago from sunny Florida

      So glad to see you this morning...so sorry for the delay in responding but as you know a lot is going on....I want you to know that prayers and love and many blessings -are headed your way today and this Christmas season . I guess the challenges that have come showed me the way to just be there for someone...it was not always so for me...I sometimes thought I needed to drone on and on...but found how comforting silence can be. Angels headed your way once again.. ps

    • pstraubie48 profile image
      Author

      Patricia Scott 5 weeks ago from sunny Florida

      I do get it. I have had the precious privilege of being at the side of someone mortally ill or emotionally ill...and knowing when to hush and just be there has been something I have had to learn. So glad to see you this morning and know that i pray for you in your battle with cancer...I truly know how challenging it is because of my family....love and blessings and many Angels are on the way ps

    • pstraubie48 profile image
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      Patricia Scott 5 weeks ago from sunny Florida

      You did....and I am having trouble responding to those dear people like you who have commented. I have contacted HubPages and hopefully it will be resolved. Angels are on the way this morning ps

    • pstraubie48 profile image
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      Patricia Scott 5 weeks ago from sunny Florida

      Thank you for stopping Jackie. I myself have been in need of and have received the silent company of a friend when I need it most. Knowing that I can sit with someone and speak if I wish or listen to their words is so very comforting to me. thank you so much for stopping to comment.

      Know that many Angels are headed your way today ps

    • manatita44 profile image

      manatita44 5 weeks ago from london

      I swear I wrote a piece here a few days ago. Anyway, Your prose is very inspiratonal. I like that idea of reaching out, it really helps the Heart. The Heart ... The Heart, that part of us which recognises empathy and likes to be universal in its approach. Bringing forward is so important!

      Your Hub sure tries to and is a most beautiful piece of information. We are so busy sometimes, obeying what can be tricks of our own minds. But yes, reaching out, listening, touching someone else ... a most wonderful Hub Patricia.

      Now I wrote a Hub for you. It's my last one. Check it out.

    • Peggy W profile image

      Peggy Woods 6 weeks ago from Houston, Texas

      What you have so beautifully written regarding empathy and silence is so true Patricia. That is exactly what most trained professionals (psychologists, therapists and the like) do well. By allowing people to really talk and express themselves that alone can be therapeutic. Sometimes in being free to do that they can discover their own answers.

      Sometimes nothing really can be done to alleviate a situation except for just being there to lend one's hands to hold, shoulders to cry upon and listening and non-judgemental ears to listen.

      It is wonderful that you are sharing this with others Patricia. Many people feel uncomfortable being around sick or dying individuals because they do not know what to say. Perhaps by reading this they will learn that what is really needed in many circumstances is just their loving presence.

      Sending love and prayers your way!

    • btrbell profile image

      Randi Benlulu 6 weeks ago from Mesa, AZ

      A good, wise and timely hub. Thank you Patricia for this important reminder. Loved reading this!

      Sending love and healing thoughts to you and yours!

    • AliciaC profile image

      Linda Crampton 6 weeks ago from British Columbia, Canada

      This is a beautiful article, Patricia. You've shared some important advice, which I will remember.

    • MsDora profile image

      Dora Weithers 6 weeks ago from The Caribbean

      "No words. Just being there." You showed how very useful our silence can be. Thanks for sharing this very beautiful and meaningful article.

    • jo miller profile image

      Jo Miller 6 weeks ago from Tennessee

      Beautifully done, Patricia. You are to be commended for the comfort you bring to others.

    • The Dirt Farmer profile image

      Jill Spencer 6 weeks ago from United States

      You're very wise, Patricia.

    • k@ri profile image

      Kari Poulsen 6 weeks ago from Ohio

      I agree, just listening and letting the other person talk is so helpful. Sometimes we all need to vent. We need to say these pent up feelings. Having someone just listen and care makes our cares seem lessened. :)

    • Ericdierker profile image

      Eric Dierker 6 weeks ago from Spring Valley, CA. U.S.A.

      All of my children and wife can easily sit in a car for an hour and not speak. I suppose we like to share the silence.

      Empathy is so important. My eldest son and I were doing a joint musing yesterday about compassion and empathy being how much nature and how much nurture.

      I love holding hands with the elderly.

    • Carb Diva profile image

      Linda Lum 6 weeks ago from Washington State, USA

      I think most of us tend to be "fixers." We want to be in control, take charge, and steady the rudder. It goes against our human nature to just sit, but as you said often that is exactly what we need to do because we simply DON'T have all of the answers.

      My favorite Bible verse, Romans 8:26.

    • DDE profile image

      Devika Primić 6 weeks ago from Dubrovnik, Croatia

      Time for family or a friend is great appreciation for both sides. You shared something so true and fair here. Busy lifestyles have taken people away from loved ones or the lack of thought.

    • billybuc profile image

      Bill Holland 6 weeks ago from Olympia, WA

      PS, if I lived nearby you, I would come over and have a cup of coffee weekly. We could just sit in silence, as old friends do, and I would let you know, just by my presence, that I care and understand.

      Hugs and love from Oly heading your way

      bill

    • Frank Atanacio profile image

      Frank Atanacio 6 weeks ago from Shelton

      Just sitting here in silence.. wow.. bless you folks..

    • Coffeequeeen profile image

      Louise Powles 6 weeks ago from Norfolk, England

      That's a lovely article Patricia. I love to help people and be there were I can. I have a lot of empathy for others, and I wish more people had more time for others.

    • manatita44 profile image

      manatita44 6 weeks ago from london

      Let me add that your writing is as beautiful as it is inspirational.

    • manatita44 profile image

      manatita44 6 weeks ago from london

      Frankly, my Sweet Sister Patricia,

      You remind me so much of the American Spirit ... that sublime and pioneering Spirit for good, for freedom, Love, flow, vibrancy and enthusiasm. This ancient call for unity in diversity and this elephant will, that refuses to remain down even after it has fallen.

      Let me take my hats of to Jefferson, Dickinson, Lincoln, Whitman and Washington; Ali and Luther King Jnr, for they had pride and yet the spirit of justice and service, pervaded their souls.

      Your music and the Heart of Dianna Ross also reflect this; your sister and family reflects this, and you shine as a rainbow in the darkness. Who says that hope has deserted America? What was continued by the Founding Father's, remains embedded in its Soul. Never give up!! Loving thoughts.-Lantern Carrier

    • Bob Bamberg profile image

      Bob Bamberg 6 weeks ago from Southeastern Massachusetts

      What a great article, Pat! Some of us really needed to read that. I'm one, who until recent years (wisdom comes with age, doesn't it), felt it necessary to chatter on...to keep the mood light...to entertain a person going through a tough period.

      But then, I began to suspect (and your article confirmed) that it's therapeutic for both people to sometimes just shut up! It's tough being an entertainer when you're not an entertainer by trade.

      And my own trials taught me that sometimes one doesn't want to be entertained. One may want to focus on ones issues, but not to have to do it in solitude. Silent companionship removes the distraction of loneliness, leaving one to freely reconcile the present situation.

      Your story about the parent who vented about a teacher tells us that we don't have to solve the problem, and that lifts a huge burden off of us. We want to help, but don't realize just "being there" is help enough.

      Thanks for a strong article that delivers an important message, making it easy for us to "get it."

    • Ericdierker profile image

      Eric Dierker 6 weeks ago from Spring Valley, CA. U.S.A.

      Perfect timing for me to learn from you. Thank you. You came along with this when I needed it. I needed a reminder to feel and not speak. My auntie lay dying. I was a preacher and a trial attorney at the time. She beckoned me close and put her finger to my lips and motioned me to sit next to her.

      I am glad she let me in without a word.

    • Jackie Lynnley profile image

      Jackie Lynnley 6 weeks ago from The Beautiful South

      This is so true PS. I know anytime I have been distraught all I want is an arm around me or someone stroking my hair to calm me. I don't want words, just a shoulder to lean on.

      Others sometimes don't realize they need to offer so little instead of being scared off by a trauma.

      I am so thankful for those I have to lean on. God uses the oddest people in my case I find. But that's God, isn't it?