Us/Me Too

A picture of empathy from our own family past.  A not sad Eli, comes alongside a distraught Andi...seeking to understand as only a brother can.

A picture of empathy from our own family past. A not sad Eli, comes alongside a distraught Andi…seeking to understand as only a brother can.

After someone shares a story, it’s an American, sometimes empathetic but all too often narcissistic, posture to respond, “You do? You have? You did? You liked it? You are?…..Well, Me TOO [or] Us TOO!”

Healthy and other centered listening tips instruct careful listeners not to interject into someone else’s story with our own. Instead, to ask more questions or provide a simple active listening prompt, “I hear you….Wow…Okay. Tell me more…”

Empathy says dig into the experience of another so much so that you begin to truly feel and understand what it’s like to be THEM in their experience. Empathy instructs us not to lay our own story on top of the one being told to us.

I’m not good at empathy naturally and listening is far down on my natural gifts scale…talking is much higher. I have lots of growing room and need help to humble myself enough to be changed.

On the other hand, saying “Me too!” can create community and connection, find similarities among strangers, or affirm good ideas. An appropriately placed “They did so….us too!” can inspire action, bolster confidence, or pass on wisdom.

Some concrete examples from my weekend, lest I babble in the abstract.

Here is a list of when to use “US TOO!” or when NOT to use “US TOO!” in my “I’m a total work in progress and a big screw-up often” opinion.

Go for it…toss a “Me too” or “Us too” out there, Example 1:

Drew: “I think standing on the floor of a concert makes it so much more of an experience. My body is engaged, I’m closer, there’s no way I would rather sit far away in a seat, in the stands”

Me: “The concert wimpy part of me wants to sit down for a minute but if you’re moving up into the crush of the floor crowd for the next band, me too!”

The result: Better views of the bands, human connection with fellow fans in a physically, sometimes uncomfortable way, but mostly in a way that opened us up to others, pushed us out of our bubbles, and let us go deeper into the music and the night.

Go for it…toss a “Me too” or “Us too” out there, Example 2:

Friend: Tells me a scary story about an almost life threatening incident over Labor Day weekend with kids at a pool. We discuss for over an hour the pulls of parenting- we want to give our kids space and confidence to explore the world on their own. We don’t want to hover over them, holding them back until we can be there, go before, and iron out every kink in their path. BUT, we MUST pay attention, wield fierce instincts, instill good decision-making skills into our little kids’ forming minds, and we must prevent any and all dangers we can. She said something like, “I can look back and learn so much from the story.”

Me: “Me too”, and her story has and should shape me, inspire me towards better parenting, and remind me of the gifts and miracles I have in the tiny bums that fill seats around my table. Shame on me if I don’t let this teach me.  My “Me too” here is a pledge to be transformed and to rise up.

How about a different response? When NOT to use “Us too” Example 1:

Eli’s first soccer game: There is a giant disparity in the talent and experience of the two teams on the pitch (is that a soccer word?). Our team is NOT the one with goals in the teens. We have one goal, they have all the rest.

Overhead on the sideline in the second half:  (Note: this is parents, not 8 year olds talking) “They are pushing our kids! The refs are not calling it. They aren’t calling anything! So…if the other team is going to push, Us too! Let’s just push them back. If those boys can get away with it today, we should too.”

I didn’t say anything. Inside my head, I agreed there seemed to be some unfairness in the match up, but don’t know enough about soccer reffing to blame the seemingly young (14? 15 year old?) refs on their first game of the season. More to the point, I did not want Eli to think that if someone else can get away with something that is not okay, all of a sudden, the offense becomes allowable, and he should do it too. For me, I was caught between the group think before me, and the conviction of raising my kid to think that the world does not owe him fairness, and that the rules don’t change because someone else is doing it. I wanted him to say, “Not me” even if it was only in how he played out the rest of the game. Athletic aggression, yes. Bitter retaliation, no.

How about a different response? When NOT to use “Us too” Example 2:

My sister: shares ideas about having a baby.

Me: “Me too! I blah blah blah blah blah” and a launch into a story from my own experience.

I cannot wait for Laura to have her baby and yet I fear I will take over her experience with MY mommy stories. Yuck! Yikes. How frustrating to want to tell someone your story and have them tell theirs, longer and louder!  I want to walk the line of sharing wisdom I’ve gain in 8 years and yet also realize the world has changed, I’ve grown up through the parenting process and didn’t know it all at the beginning. I look back and see lots of what I learned, I learned by doing it myself, messing up, studying my kids, and putting my head next to Drew’s and hoping a great idea would come. I want to walk with Laura and love her baby but I do NOT want to overstep or oversay.

**This concept expands to include anytime anyone tells me about something they are doing that I also do: go to Colorado, do Crossfit, grow a garden,  etc.. I know my “Me too”s must come only after their story is fully told and only if, adding mine would bring us together, add information, or deepen the conversation.

People are great. And as Jerry Sienfeld wisely says, “People…they’re the worst!”

We must be careful not to commiserate when we  should confront instead. I want to empathize not proselytize. I will affirm, “Me too!” and talk for hours about a shared interest with a peer friend- all along the way, asking questions and shutting up with they speak.

I want to grow up kids who know when to say, “You’re drinking alcohol? NOT ME”  as well as,  “You’re going to try that really hard academic, athletic, artistic thing? Me too! Even if we fail, let’s try!”  I hope their risks are taken boldly and wisely, and that their pain never comes on the heels of a negligent and uninformed “They are…so Me too”.







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