There’s nothing wrong with doing your own thing but why limit yourself to what you only know when there is a room full of eager eyes, hungry hearts, and magic thinking. You have the beautiful honor of listening to others, molding new wonders and ideas, and imagining bigger and better.The essence of community is to gather all that is new and wonderful and understood—together.👇🏽 share your fav communities youre a part of
My dear friend Yetti asked me to be a part of her Self-Love series where we all wrote letters to our past selves to let them go and let them know we’re growing and safe now.I wrote to my past self from just a few months ago. Yes, as in who I was just a few months ago was a complete contrast to who I am now and she needed someone badly to help her out of her darkness.We talk about healing our inner child, our younger selves who needed the person we are now to console and comfort her, guide her and redirect her. But we don’t talk about healing our past selves just a moment ago, just a day ago, just a month ago. When we tell ourselves it’s a practice, it is quite literally not about seeing ourselves in different phases or levels to pursue (this isn’t a video game!) but rather seeing ourselves every single day. Practicing how to ask ourselves what are we feeling right now and what do we need from ourselves in this moment?
A personal think-piece on how experiences widen individual choice and expand community empathy.
Within the past year or so, I’ve found myself diving into the world of events and experiences. Whether professionally or socially, I couldn’t help but love this idea of curating moments and specific gatherings to bring people together along aligned topics, ideas, and passions. I love how it begins with a seed of an idea then builds into a fully planned process, everything from format to design to collaboration to activities to music, etc, and slowly becomes this ongoing riddle of how I can add new elements to make the event different and unique to the people involved. But my absolute favorite part about creating experiences is what I hope people walk away feeling afterwards, because while everything can come together perfectly and work out exactly as I’d hope they would, it’s how the experience made people feel that they remember the most.
One of my more successful events is my Word Nonsense Open Mic nights for spoken word and poetry. While the concept of an open mic is not necessarily new, my open mic nights are specifically curated as an intimate safe space for anyone who wants to share their words, regardless of background or expertise. I created a format that I believe allowed people to naturally gravitate towards vulnerability by crafting elements of the event that made people feel safe and seen. From adding live music to calm the nerves and engage emotional connection to featuring local poets and artists to share their work so that others could feel inspired to do the same to hiring an emcee to host the event so I could focus on interacting with guests, I thought through every intentional aspect of the event to help guide people to feel empowered by their own words and share out loud. And it wasn’t simply for others’ benefit, I did it all for myself as well. These were pieces of my life that have guided me to share my vulnerability out loud in other ways, and if they worked for me, then I hoped it would do the same for at least one other person. My goal for Word Nonsense was to ignite emotional connection through self-expression and build community through vulnerability. I wanted people to walk away empowered to explore their own deeper emotions through writing.
I think what makes certain experiences really stand out is how they can tap into emotions within us that are not normally shared in public, especially amongst strangers, because it challenges us to be vulnerable and see and be seen by one another. They tap into one of the most undervalued qualities as humans that helps us connect a lot further than emotions like sadness and joy: and that’s empathy.
On a larger scale, society needs experiences in order to sustain communities because they build empathy within each individual. And when we can all become more empathetic towards one another, we can create sustainable and thriving communities that drive a better society.
Experiences widen individual choice and belonging.
Experience is an umbrella term for events in our lives. By definition, experiences are a direct observation of or participation in events as a basis of knowledge, that often takes place with several other people, and something that has a profound effect on our lives. The effects on our lives through these experiences shape the way we perceive, engage, and believe about the world around us. They also expand our perceptions to, hopefully, welcome in new ideas, perspectives, and understanding of belonging.
Hungarian-American entrepreneur George Soros believes lived experiences are essential to global advancement. As Alex Lazarow writes in his piece about Soros, the man believes “looking internationally allows us to connect the dots and find underappreciated opportunities both at home and abroad. Understanding and adapting to the local reality allows us to unlock innovation’s potential for meaningful impact.” Soros is known for his philanthropic foundation Open Society, in which he advocates for a world where a society allows its members considerable freedom. He believes that there was no such thing as a single truth but rather multiple truths crowdsourced from people and their lived experiences, which allows for open discussions, thus an open society. This means the more access people had to experiences, the more they can practice that considerable freedom within societies. Experiences don’t validate truths but they allow for more than one truth to exist, and it is up to one’s own knowledge and intuition to apply those truths to one’s own life. This is the essence of individual choice — making the sound decisions based on our knowledge, experience, and resources available to us in that moment.
Choice is a powerful human driver. Without getting too in depth about it, I think it’s important to acknowledge how much we, as humans, feel empowered by the choices we make for our own lives. And when people make the choice to engage in particular experiences, they are making the individual decision to take a risk, go out of their comfort zone, step into some level of newness, knowing they will walk away differently and changed. This personal journey will naturally ignite deeper empathy because people will loosen their grip on their protective boundaries to allow for a glimpse of newness and change, no matter how agreeable or disagreeable. It is almost impossible not to feel like you’ve been moved in some way after you’ve been through an experience, whether that’s positive or negative, but it most certainly widens your perspective, and ultimately, your action of choice.
When we consider how experiences are a key element to developing individual choice and perspective, we can see that experiences are like real life simulations meant to challenge us to understand someone else’s perspective. All elements of an experience are intended to soften our pre-conditioned senses, bring down our guarded walls so we can be open without prior judgements and restricted biases.
It’s within experiences that we hope to feel safe and that we personally belong here, a core human desire and driver of individual motivation. According to the need to belong theory, humans have a universal drive to form and maintain lasting, positive, and vital relationships. So when you feel like you belong, it’s easier to let other people in while also opening yourself up to new beliefs and ideas. Maya Shankar, cognitive scientist and the creator, host, and executive producer of the podcast, A Slight Change of Plans, mentions this in her interview with Jay Shetty stating that “People do not generate their attitudes and beliefs just based on facts. They generate their attitudes and beliefs about the world, in part, based on their membership to different groups and the values those groups hold.” Thus, experiences validate a sense of belonging, ultimately, shaping and sharing within societies as we contribute various attitudes and beliefs.
Empathy is foundational to building community.
I’ve always believed that if we were all a little more empathic and compassionate, we’d function much better as a society, rather than operating from a place of “other-ing” one another to narrow in on our own sense of belonging to a particular group or community. It’s easy to forget that at our societal core, we are all humans, motivated by basic innate drivers. It’s one of the reasons why I co-founded my non-profit organization Now You See Us, as a community meant to connect people of various cultures and backgrounds through raw and vulnerable conversations. My partner and I believed that building the safe spaces for people to be honest with their emotions and thoughts regarding race and culture would help us extend empathy and connect further with one another as humans who simply care and want to learn about each other.
In its basic sense, empathy is the capacity to understand or feel what another person is experiencing from within their frame of reference, that is, the capacity to place oneself in another's position. This capacity enables us to look outside ourselves and hold space for shared feelings and emotions through another’s lens. Empathy is a significant social currency that connects us to one another as humans, and we’ve seen the detrimental ways people can act when we lack some level of empathy. But when empathy can be respected, practiced, and extended towards each other, it builds genuine community. Essentially, community is the sharing of empathy. We simply can’t build community without thinking about each other and another person’s needs. In her book The Art of Gathering, Priya Parker states,“In a group, if everybody thinks about the other person’s needs, everyone’s needs are actually fulfilled in the end. But if you only think about yourself, you are breaking that contract.” It’s this marriage of empathy and community that allows us to see each other and help one another achieve individual fulfillment. It is the cycle of growth and betterment.
Even taking it beyond the foundation of building community, empathy allows for productive communication. Not only do we see each other, understand each other’s thoughts and feelings, but we also have to do so through healthy communication, especially effective disagreements. The purpose is not to align on a single truth. but to allow more than one truth to exist and respect how these truths hold up for each other. Disagreements, and debates about these disagreements, bring about deeper education and open perspectives.
Repeat and bad experiences strengthen our empathy.
I used to detest the universe or whatever higher power out there for presenting me with repeat experiences because it made me feel like I was constantly being tested. It was bad enough to go through a particular situation the first time and grow from that, but to be presented with that same situation over and over again felt like a comedic cycle I couldn’t escape. If I passed the first time, and learned my lesson then, then why am I going through this Thing again? I think what really made me uncomfortable about these moments was that I was confronting my insecurities and traumas that got me in that situation to begin with. It was emotionally draining to confront them again, multiple times, within my life. But after some time, I saw these repeat experiences as not just lessons I have to overcome in new ways each time, but also an opportunity to deepen and strengthen my own empathy and compassion for myself. I now view repeat experiences as a pause for self-reflection and a much-needed conversation with myself. “Are you ready for this now?” “How do you feel now compared to before?” “What have you learned to trust that you couldn’t confront back then?” These repeat experiences are necessary to my healing because they are mirrors to my personal growth.
And the same sentiments can be made for good versus bad experiences, too. We put so much emphasis on living out good experiences, on recreating moments that made us feel good, but there’s much to be learned from bad experiences as well. Bad experiences create perspective, regardless of what emotions have been triggered. The discomfort of bad experiences is one of our greatest teachers in our own healing when we can peel back the layers of that discomfort to understand ourselves on a deeper level. They help build self-awareness, but also empathy because it’s within these challenging moments that we begin to understand what we still need to work on or how to draw healthy boundaries for our personal peace.
On the other hand, good experiences validate our empathy and how far it goes, which can strengthen our mental and emotional fortitude for better communication, especially within disagreements. We are able to separate the situation for what it is from how our personal egos, traumas, and past experiences factor into our judgments. And as I mentioned above, effective communication comes from a degree of mutual empathy and respect for the parties involved.
Choice is not binary.
I’ve thought long and hard about experiences and empathy, both separately by their own definitions and together as effects to each other. It made me want to write this particular think-piece on how important it is to create more shared experiences, build upon community through these experiences, and further challenge one another to deepen our empathy in order to better our world as community.
I’ve seen how my own work in events has shaped the way I view the immediate world, and the ways I’ve expanded on my own thinking. My agency of choice has reframed my idea of belonging and how I choose to belong within safe spaces. I move by how I want to feel good about the choices I didn’t know how to make because it’ll bring me perspective, rather than living by impulsively making choices that only felt “good” for a brief moment. In other words, I’m not “yolo-ing” it anymore because I want to listen to my body, remember similar experiences and how those made me feel, understand that whatever decision I make will not be a result of achieving “better” nor “right” compared to another. Every choice is available and meant for me, and each will present equal amounts of fulfillment, satisfaction, and peace, but it is what I can trust within myself to make the decision that can only make sense in retrospect.
I choose to no longer view experiences as binary choices, but rather ample channels towards my ultimate manifestations. Our minds are too small and fragile to comprehend more than two choices, but I know there are always more than two choices. When we can understand that fact, then we can open ourselves up to more experiences. And we can breed new levels of empathy, both personally, for individual healing and socially, as part of better community.