Dustin stares back into the cold blue eyes of his flustered father, taking in his crimson face. The argument is about to turn, he can feel it. Not long now. The pressure is about to release, the dam is about to give way…just a few more minutes. Taking a deep breath, Dustin works to remain focused on his father’s words, listening carefully for hidden feelings, needs, and externalizations.
While away at school the previous fall, Dustin learned about Empathy Games, a game that is sweeping his college campus. The concept for the game was introduced by a popular young communications professor who gives a series of lectures he calls Empathy Games: How To Save Humanity!
When Dustin first learned of Empathy Games, he was wary, even afraid; an empathic response had not exactly been cultivated in Dustin, rather the opposite. Shaming criticism was the response that he grew up with in his childhood suburb outside of Boston.
What finally convinced Dustin was playing the game with his peers and experiencing the prize for winning a round of Empathy Games, a prize unlike any he had ever experienced before.
The prize is empathic release for all involved in the interaction. The first time Dustin experienced a full empathic release he felt ease of well-being wash over his body, relaxing his muscles and stilling his mind. He felt the love and acceptance that he had been searching for his entire life, and it came from a relative stranger, his fellow classmate, who then became his close friend.
“The bonding and connection experienced after a successful round of Empathy Games is how the human race can be saved,” the young professor explained. “If we are going to be able to unite humanity and work together to address the global problems that we are now ignoring, we are going to need to find empathy for each other. We are going to need to learn how to connect and work together. By approaching conversations through the lens of the game, we can begin to connect again in a new way. We can turn enemies into allies.”
Dustin is now approaching arguments like he would a video game. Each game begins with a challenge. The challenge is to turn the enemy into an ally by finding the key that unlocks the door from a room of stress, frustration, anger, judgment, and resentment into a room of relaxation, ease of well-being, love, acceptance, and connection.
In order to find the key, Dustin learns that he needs to build up empathy points. Empathy points are gained when he successfully identifies feelings and needs hidden in the words of his opponent. These shared feelings and needs help generate empathy and connection.
Another aspect of Empathy Games that Dustin has learned is a technique which will help him continue on to the next level of the conversation and battle the externalizations of his adversary. The technique is Language Yoga. Using his Language Yoga shield allows him to not be triggered by the externalizing tendencies of his opponent. Instead, he uses externalizations to find clarity and generate more empathy points. By converting the pronouns you, we, he, she, they, our, it, and so on into me, myself, and I in his head; Dustin puts up an invisible Language Yoga shield that magically illuminates the true meaning behind the words of his opponent.
In the next level of the game, Dustin reflects his insights back to his enemy with empathy. More often than not he identifies with his foe, and this connection helps him earn even more empathy points. Once obscuration is cleared and empathy is expressed, there is no more need for shields. Release and relief rush through Dustin’s body because his foe is now his friend, their connection formed around deep and genuine interaction.
Dustin has found that in order to win the game and experience the feelings of genuine open connection that he has always longed for, he must actually play. He can no longer sit in the corner watching interactions unfold from afar, nor can he passively stand by while being talked at by other people.
No, he must stand strong, listen with intent, and use his words and his shield to protect himself if necessary. The reward for being proactive and cultivating empathy in a conversation is so incredible that it makes the difficult parts completely worth it.
In order to practice Empathy Games in the classroom, the professor had the students fill out questionnaires about their opinions around sensitive subjects. The professor then matched students with opposing viewpoints and let the interactions unfold. All of the rounds of Empathy Games that Dustin has played in the last few months are coming in handy in this moment. Playing with his father is a whole different level than playing with his peers.
His father’s voice is filled with anger and frustration. “How could you change your major without telling me? Art history? It’s a worthless degree. You certainly aren’t going to save humanity like you keep talking about with a degree in art history. Do you really think you are going to be able to support yourself with art? I fear for your future son. Furthermore, you didn’t even consult me, the one footing the bill for your little artistic adventure. I thought you were always going to be open and honest with me. I don’t know what else to say Dustin, I’m really angry at you right now.”
This is the moment. Everything in Dustin’s body wants to react, to yell back and express the anger he feels bubbling up inside, but instead he focuses on finding his father’s feelings and needs. He hears that his father feels fear, anger, and frustration for not being consulted. It sounds like his father too needs open and honest communication.
“Dad, are you saying that you are upset because me switching my major without telling you didn’t meet your need for honest and open communication?” Dustin questions.
His father responds, “Yes, I’m upset because your college is expensive and I don’t want to waste money on a worthless education for you. If you had talked to me first maybe we could have avoided this situation. I could have convinced you to stick with business.”
Dustin pauses before saying, “So you’re scared that I won’t be able to make a living as an artist?”
“Yes, I’m worried for your future. I know how the system works, and you need to know how to make good business choices to get ahead in this world,” his father explains.
Dustin understands that by using “you,” his father is externalizing what is really going on with himself. Dustin uses his Language YOga shield to avoid being triggered and to instead connect around a shared need of wanting to make good decisions.
“Dad, I honor your wisdom and I agree that I need to make good choices. I think that this switch in majors is a good decision for me because it’s in alignment with my truth. I’m not exactly like you, I don’t want to be a businessman. As a matter of fact, when I think about pursuing a career in the business field, I feel anxious and overwhelmed. I don’t think that I can succeed in that arena. My passion is to be an artist and I am confident that I will succeed because my heart is behind it. I have my own unique path that I’m feeling called to follow, but if I’m going to succeed, I need to start making decisions for myself. After all, is this degree for me or for you?” Dustin responds.
His father replies, “I see, I didn’t realize that business made you feel anxious and overwhelmed. I agree that if it makes you feel that way then you shouldn’t pursue a career in business. This degree is for you and I do want you to make decisions for yourself. I see how me always stepping in is taking that away from you, which is probably why you didn’t want to tell me in the first place.”
“Wow! Thanks for seeing me dad, you are exactly right. I used to think I was scared of you, but now I see that I was actually afraid of how I would react. I was afraid I would cave into your pressure and not follow my heart. I love you dad.”
Tears are now starting to leak out of the corners of Dustin’s father’s eyes, a sight that Dustin has never witnessed before. Then again, Dustin doesn’t remember the last time that he told his father that he loved him.
Dustin’s father’s hard eyes are now soft and filled with love. He pulls Dustin into a tight embrace, holding his son for a long time before releasing his grip.
“Dustin, I think you are going to be just fine, you have a good head on your shoulders. I respect that you want to follow your heart and make decisions which are in alignment with your truth. I will support you in your quest to do so. I love you too son.”
Dustin feels his entire body relax, he did it! He found the key and successfully opened the door to his own liberation. He finally faced his father and it wasn’t even that bad!
In facing that which he had been avoiding, he took on his fears and converted them into connection. Empowered by empathy, Dustin feels like maybe he really can save humanity after all.
From I’m Calling Myself Out