“In these times I don’t, in a manner of speaking, know what I want; perhaps I don’t want what I know and want what I don’t know.”
— Marsilio Ficino
The state of ambivalence in people—of going to and fro in undecided fashion—is annoyingly common, and for the more decisive of people it’s a test of both patience and grace. Loving people who change their minds frequently, and not knowing ‘where’ they’ll be at any given moment, leaves normally decisive people feeling rather indecisive. It can be seen as an intrusion on our person to have to deal with indecisiveness when we prefer just to go one way or the other.
Then there is the added complication; the person we deal with who is ambivalent to the point of us never being able to achieve any sense of intimacy, trust, or rapport with them.
Engaging In Our Own Uncertainty In Order to Empathise
Our empathy for those people who appear more uncertain than we are needs to come from understanding ourselves when we have been more or less uncertain.
Everyone has had their uncertainties. And if anyone thinks they have never been uncertain they might also have made many more mistakes in life than the average person. Decisiveness can be a mark of pride; of self-sufficiency; of ignorant self-certainty.
Not all decisiveness is borne of wisdom. Much of it may actually be borne of folly.
So sometimes, especially when we are honest, we see our own uncertainties in true light. And then we recall the sense of ourselves in fear of conflicts for either approach or avoidance (at the same time!). Empathy for undecided others is easy when we consider the inner conflicts they must be struggling with. Whether these inner conflicts make any sense to us or not is beside the point. When someone is in inner conflict they deserve our empathy, understanding, and support.
Practicing Active Empathy
Apart from the exceptions where we need to facilitate decisiveness, particularly in working situations, we can afford to extend grace through the practice of active empathy.
So this is not just about understanding; it’s also about doing something practical to demonstrate our empathy. Feeling as uncertain people feel is the catalyst. But true feeling, in an interactive way between two people, occurs when support is needed and also given.
As far as uncertain people are concerned, the support we can offer is grace in our interaction and the reduction of pressure. Simply put, we back off.
Feeling as uncertain people feel, loving the indecisive, requires patience. But empathy grows out of understanding how foreign to peace inner conflict is. We are much more patient and understanding when we recognise the other person is conflicted. Then it just makes sense to back off and give them the space they need.
© 2012 S. J. Wickham.