198 – Belinda Bauman: How Does Empathy Change Our Work?
- Sympathy, apathy, and antipathy can fake their way into looking like passion and compassion.
- Empathy is not “with passion” but “in passion”, that requires a willingness to decenter one’s self and center the other person in order to know and care for them.
- When people give their thumbprint, they are encouraging the protection of women, the ability for women to prosper through education and economy, and that their voices be heard at the peace table.
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Dave [00:00:00] You’re listening to the Ending Human Trafficking podcast. This is episode number 198: Belinda Bauman: How Does Empathy Change Our Work?
Production Credits [00:00:10] Produced by Innovate Learning, maximizing human potential.
Dave [00:00:31] Welcome to the Ending Human Trafficking podcast. My name is Dave Stachowiak.
Sandie [00:00:37] And my name is Sandie Morgan.
Dave [00:00:39] And this is the show where we empower you to study the issues, be a voice, and make a difference in ending human trafficking. Sandie, one of the skills to make a difference pretty much anywhere is the skill of empathy, right?
Sandie [00:00:52] That’s right.
Dave [00:00:53] Today, our guest is someone who has not only served the world so well on working against trafficking but also is going to bring us a fantastic perspective on the importance and the power of empathy. I’m so glad to welcome to the show today, Belinda Bauman. She is the founder of One Million Thumbprints, a movement of peacemakers advocating with women in the world’s worst conflict zones. Belinda is also the co-founder of and the visionary behind #SilenceIsNotSpiritual, a campaign calling churches to break the silence on violence against women. Belinda is a speaker and contributor to Newsweek’s The Daily Beast, Red Tent Living, Huffington Post, and Christianity Today. And she is the author of the book, Brave Souls: Experiencing the Audacious Power of Empathy. Belinda, we’re so glad to welcome you to the show.
Belinda [00:01:46] What an honor to be with you this morning. Thank you.
Sandie [00:01:50] Belinda, you have been an inspiration to me for several years and I’m always just I think what I love about our conversations is I always feel pushed to the next level in a really positive way. And we can lament some of the horrific things going on in this world but we move towards empathy. You have led in empathy ever since I’ve known you. So I’m very excited about Brave Souls, I’ve already read it and could hardly wait for this interview.
Belinda [00:02:30] I feel the same way about you, Sandie. You’ve been a guide to me in your pioneering in the area of anti-trafficking for many many years. And I have the best mentors that have pointed the right direction for so many years. And being able to watch you and many of my other sisters lead the way, I count that as one of the greatest joys of my life. So if I can just flip that around on you and say thank you so much for all that you’ve done.
Sandie [00:03:02] Thank you. Well, let’s dive right in. We want to look at a definition of empathy, but maybe we should start with why you climbed Mount Kilimanjaro?
Belinda [00:03:17] Because that’s so easy to talk about. Yeah. So maybe the best way to jump into this is to say I climbed Mount Kilimanjaro because I met a woman named Hope, that taught me how to love. And I think her example in the world made me want to light my hair on fire if I could use that metaphor and shout about what she and her life was experiencing as an injustice. That really made me very mad and that she felt very hopeless in the middle of. So if I could just kind of back up a little bit, the empathy that I learned from a woman named Esperance in the Democratic Republic of the Congo was entirely different from what I actually thought empathy was. And I think you know we trip along in our lives and we’re pretty sure we have concepts down. You know, maybe even from childhood stuff like “Oh I know how to listen” when we really nobody’s ever really taught us. Or “Oh yeah I know how to be compassionate,” and really in the end when we think about it, it’s just kind of an idea in our mind and we haven’t really dialed down into what it actually is. So meeting Esperance in the Democratic Republic of the Congo was one of those ebenezers in my life that showed me what I didn’t know as opposed to what I did know.
Sandie [00:05:06] Wow.
Belinda [00:05:07] And those are as valuable in our lives as thinking, “Oh yeah I get this”, right?
Sandie [00:05:13] Yeah.
Belinda [00:05:13] So meeting Esperance showed me my lack of a definition of empathy. And if you don’t mind, I’d love to kind of just onramp into that story. My response, if I was to say to your listeners what do you actually think of when you hear the word empathy, right? And then by extension, I think a better question is this: who pops into your head when you think of the word empathy? And then if I was to say, empathy and who have it and who don’t have it may be very different than what we think it is. In the example, Exhibit A, I will use myself.
Sandie [00:06:03] Okay.
Belinda [00:06:03] All right. So most people that would take up my book, Brave Souls, would probably be tempted to say something like this: Oh yeah I have heard this headline before, sheltered white woman shocked into reality because she meets Congo war survivor. Because I am a middle aged, middle class, white woman who did go to the Congo and met Esperance in an interview session. And if you’re rolling your eyes right now thinking, “Oh yeah”. Honestly, I would probably roll my eyes too. But my story was very different from that. War, at that time, was not new to me. I had been living in and out of conflict zones doing community development with my husband and then later on with my entire family for pretty close to two decades by then. I had been a Christian, like a met Jesus on the road said the sinner’s prayer ticked all the boxes kind of Christian for 30 years by that time. Yet even though war wasn’t new to me, Esperance’s response with courage was new to me. And Esperance’s suffering it was not what impressed me. It was her response to her suffering that changed my perspective. And that required me to figure out what was the difference. I had three pretty high functioning responses to relating to people up to that point. Having been a Christian for a long time, and lived in some pretty hard places. But I would say that my responses to other people’s suffering weren’t that different from all the responses I was seeing from Christians all around me. Like my first reach would be sympathy. I would look for a quick fix. I’d encounter someone else’s suffering, such as Esperance, and I would feel the tension. I would let myself feel the tension and then I would look for a way out of it. And it usually, because I was sophisticated and very Christian, I would you know say something nice, say something culturally acceptable. It kind of equates to sending flowers or writing a card. Sympathy kind of says, I really care about you right now I just don’t care to know about what’s going on in your life, it hurts too much. It keeps the sufferer at an arm’s length. Yet at the same time alleviates my own guilt. Right?
Sandie [00:09:04] Right.
Belinda [00:09:04] That’s a total disconnect there. You can’t solve the world’s problems with sympathy, it’s not going to work. Then, if that didn’t work, this was my personal favorite, I would reach for super high functioning apathy. And a lot of times, apathy isn’t what we think it is either. Apathy is camouflaged for indifference. It looks a lot like I know a lot. It can diagnose anything. It reads, it studies, it makes educated guesses at what problems are but it still keeps the sufferer at arm’s length. It says something like, I know what’s going on here, I just really don’t care because of the sufferings too much. Right? Apathy knows what’s going on.
Sandie [00:09:57] Its kind of like using analysis and it turns into analysis paralysis.
Belinda [00:10:04] Absolutely. And as Christians we love that because we can sound like, we can camouflage our indifference by knowing stuff. But we really do keep the suffering at arm’s length. Then if sympathy wasn’t working, the cultural quick fix wasn’t working for me, and if the apathy wasn’t working, this kind of high functioning camouflage of my indifference wasn’t working, I would reach for the ultimate bomb- and that was antipathy. And this is where I would go. It looks a lot like protest. It looks a lot like I’m angry and I’m justified. The etymology of antipathy is awesome and it is anti feeling or opposed feeling, which means you are opposed to feeling into the experience of another person. Yet you can still be outraged, right?
Sandie [00:11:04] Absolutely. And you’ve just nailed what I see and get so frustrated with in the anti-human trafficking world is everybody’s doing protest and we’re against everything, but can you just sit down for a minute and do something about it?
Belinda [00:11:19] Right, exactly. When the antipathy says look I don’t know and I don’t care, just get out of my way I got something to say. Actually, if we analyze that antipathy ends up being just self-righteousness getting loud. So those three things sympathy, apathy, and antipathy are all when sophisticated when super high functioning. They can fake their way into looking like passion, they can fake their way into looking like compassion and I use myself as Exhibit A. I was rolling around in those three responses until I actually met what a woman that taught me what empathy is. And empathy looks like this. It looks like the journey from disconnecting to connecting. It looks like em pesos, not with passion but in passion. It is a mutual seeing of another person, a leaning into, instead of away from. Listening in to instead of listening at. It’s my willingness to decenter myself and center the other person in knowing them, in caring about them. And then letting those two things, my knowing and my caring, inform all of the actions, not just some of them but all of the actions that I take towards that person, whether it’s advocacy, or getting loud, or you know getting involved in political movements, or taking a class, or praying for that person. All of my actions towards that person are informed by both knowing them and caring for them. So what ultimately happened, was I met Esperance and she told me her story and I let myself hear it. It sounded like a 45-year-old woman, which was my age at the time, with four children being forced to flee her home in one of the world’s worst conflicts on the planet. She watched her husband being shot and killed. She was then brutally raped and left for dead in the forest. And she was found by women counselors who were trained by their churches to go into the Virunga National Forest and seek out women who were having this experience. She was found by them. She was clothed. She was cleaned. She was taken to a clinic where she received one month of rape treatment. And they never left her. They stayed with her. They stayed with her for the nine months that it took to bring her child to birth. And then they stayed with her for the rest of the time it took for her to finish her counselor training because she wanted to become, she wanted her suffering response to be helpful to women that had experienced what she experienced. In order for her to be able to do that, she had to confront the perpetrators. She had to make peace with them and with her experience. And that was in a passion. She took all of her sufferings and translated it into the actual change of her country. Had she chosen sympathy or apathy or antipathy as her primary response to her own suffering, none of the good that she had done for the last five years would have been half as effective, including in my own life. So I look to Esperance as the one who gave me my mandate. She asked me to tell her story. When we finished I was writing an article for The Daily Beast on Mother’s Day in a War Zone. And I wanted her full-throated permission to tell her story. It took quite a while. She was sitting with her pastor and talking through what it meant to tell her story of violence. And by the end of their time together, she got a little frustrated I get the sense of. She had him flip over the consent form and write in bold capital letters, she’s preliterate so she wasn’t able to write this herself. So she had her pastor write “tell the world my story” and then the way she signed it was with her thumbprint. Her entire identity and all the goods and services and her ability to make her voice known in her government to vote politically were all wrapped up in her thumbprint. She gave me her most precious biometric identifier as she stamped it underneath those words. Now, most of the time when I tell somebody’s story I’m getting permission in the email that I get. But you can imagine what happened to me when that showed up in my inbox.
Sandie [00:17:14] Wow.
Belinda [00:17:14] I opened it and I said I knew that something had changed for me, that I had exchanged making myself the center of telling someone else’s story to center her story for the sake of her story. And Esperance’s thumbprint became my mandate and because the problem of gender-based violence, including human trafficking, is an enormous epidemic on our planet. It was called for a big response. So there’ve been days that I’ve thought oh my gosh why in the world did I name my organization One Million Thumbprints because at the moment all we have are 11,000. Even though that’s significant, I think I might be ninety and still asking people to sign this petition that we have. But you know what? There are millions of women on this planet who are waiting for their story to be heard. And so if one million thumbprints take ’till I’m 90, I am in this empathy game for the long haul.
Sandie [00:18:24] Wow. How do people who want their thumbprint on that, how do they do that?
Belinda [00:18:32] We’ve tried to make it as easy as possible. We carry a three-point agenda that’s really really easy to understand. We advocate for the protection of women in conflict zones and catalyze their voice as such. The telling of their story, even if it’s our voices that are speaking their story. We ask for the promotion of programs that help the survival of women and girls in conflict zones, giving them safe spaces, trauma support, and health services as well as education. We also ask that policies, either in the country or our own American policies, that affect the survival and the life quality of women in war zones be informed by the voices of the women themselves. In other words, we want survivor voices at the peace tables when the peace is being negotiated. Whether that’s funds from the US, or whether that’s the Congolese government or the Syrian government or the South Sudan governments negotiating the quality of life for these women. So we ask that the women are protected. We ask that the women are able to prosper, either through education and the economy. And we ask that their voices be heard at the peace table. Those three simple asks is what happens when people give their thumbprint or sign our petition. And that’s easy to do if you text “thumbprint”, the word thumbprint to 51-555. You’ll get a response right back and they’ll reroute you to where you just give your name and your address, and your name will be put on the roster for when we visit the U.N., which we’ll be going back to the U.N. this summer to speak with U.S. U.N. about the current Africa based policies. I was just with the brand new U.N. ambassador to Congo and he was full-throated ready to endorse this advocacy plea that we have and said please speak to the U.N., speak to Congress, bring as many thumbprints as you possibly can to augment and empower the voices of these women who we may not normally be able to hear.
Sandie [00:21:07] So when you decided to pull together a team of women to climb Mount Kilimanjaro, you chose one of my friends, Kim Yim. And so I walked with her through “should I do it?” The questions. Is this too big? Is it too extravagant as a statement?” All of those things and then making the decision and the training that is required and then coming back from that experience. When I picked up your book and I started reading, I read everything through Kim’s eyes and the stories that she told me and the conversations we had and I felt like I was almost there. I wanted people to understand why you had to do such a big thing. And can you explain that better than I can?
Belinda [00:22:08] Well if maybe I could address this first. In that, if you kind of look at what we talked about previously my kind of high functioning, dysfunctional responses to other people’s suffering in apathy antipathy and sympathy. If you look at the real kind of nature of those three things, all three of them begin strictly with my own perspective or they begin by putting me in the middle or putting my story and what I need at the forefront. Empathy is really the only one that requires us to first seek out something in ourselves that connects with the other person. And once we’ve done that, the other person gets to be at the forefront. They get to be the one driving the predominant emotion or the predominant thought so that our own actions aren’t just informed by ourselves, but they’re informed by both of us. So when I talk to people about climbing Kilimanjaro I like to use the quotes that are good our climb guide used with us. The night before we took off to start a five-day climb, that Kim so effectively stops through and trained for and made herself an expert in. He said to us, “if you think the climb up is difficult, wait ’til you experience the dissent.” And I would have never thought that getting down. I always thought that the summit was the goal. That getting to the top was where we were going, that was the journey. But he was giving us some very circular view of when we were going to get really tired and then there are the mountain tops. The mountain tops are fueled, the mountain top is actually the middle of the journey and they’re kind of fueled with you know feelings of success and all the right endorphins and cortisol and all you know the right balance of anxiety and excitement. And then you turn around, and you look at the miles that are yet to go. And the gravity, we like to think that gravity will pull us down. But the problem with that is yes, the gravity will pull us down so we have to fight it with all of our muscles, our back muscles, and thigh muscles, and our gluteus maximus so that we don’t go head over heels tumbling down and hurt ourselves because we’re tired. So for me, it was the descent from Kilimanjaro that was my biggest lesson. It was where I had to engage the discipline of empathy and start thinking, “Why did I do this? Who am I doing this with? Not who am I doing this for.” I had to make sure that there were grit and strength that was coming from beyond me, not just centered in me. And that was when everything dropped because I like the definition that Dallas Willard uses for spiritual discipline and that is, “we seek discipline in our lives within ourselves so we have the strength to do something beyond ourselves.” So it’s both and, we have the strength in us but we discipline it enough so that we can go far beyond ourselves. The only way we do that is by engaging the fact that we know and we care and we inform all of our actions based not just in ourselves but in loving others.
Sandie [00:26:30] Wow.
Belinda [00:26:31] If empathy is something that just happens to us, that’s where I think we get into trouble. If Kilimanjaro was just something that was happening to the 14 women, all 14, by the way, summited Kilimanjaro. The odds were against them, technically only 35 percent of us should of summit. But there was something that we engaged in that year-long preparation of informing our minds and disciplining our emotions so that all of our actions were geared towards climbing Kilimanjaro with women who were survivors of gender-based violence. At that point, the suffering we were experiencing wasn’t just happening to us, so that we just reacted. It was something that we were actively engaging in on purpose. It wasn’t something that hit me blindside, it was a discipline that I was choosing to be informed about. Taking the perspective of women who experienced gender-based violence, seeing through their eyes, listening carefully to their stories, and not backing away when it got really hard to hear the ugly parts. And then being willing to step into this gap of silence that the world had in response to their suffering and make peace the way Jesus made peace, by calling others to see and hear and feel the suffering that these women were experiencing. And not just their suffering but their strength and their joy because I find that the gift of empathy, the best thing that we as Christians experience when we do what Jesus did, which was the incarnation he came and gave us the ultimate act of empathy by not just slipping on our shoes and walking around for a day, I find that definition of empathy so deceptive. He left his life and glory to put on our entire skin, to feel everything we felt, to know everything we know. And then he let that inform his actions towards us, which meant that he took the skin he was wearing all the way to the cross. And if we think we’re uncomfortable by listening to other people’s suffering, I think that that ultimate act of Jesus could probably be the gauge of how much capacity we have for suffering in with people.
Sandie [00:29:28] Oh Belinda. Empathy is huge and the dissent from this conversation too. Just pulling us back down to okay now I have to walk out the door and go do my daily life after this conversation. There is an awful lot of emotion in that and I know one of the quotes that really struck me for my everyday life is you said in the book, “The World has settled for competition instead of compassion, civility instead of love, and transaction instead of community.” We have so many things going on. I was in Greece working with refugees from the Syrian conflict, and the desperation and the idea of having a conversation across really significant religious boundaries and being told how to have a civil conversation with someone who’s Muslim. Your quote that quote just struck me civility instead of love is not empathy and transaction just making something happen isn’t the same as a community, community are those women that sat with Esperance, and community takes courage. That’s why I love the title of the book, Brave Souls. I want to be one with you and with my sisters. I did notice though because Dave just gave me the high five here that men are putting their thumbprints down too and we are inclusive, we want men and women to be part of this journey of empathy.
Belinda [00:31:17] Absolutely and I have found that when men are leaning in to and the listening in to and in the peacemaking of women’s lives that experience gender-based violence at whatever level, whether it’s anti-trafficking or maybe economic and political violence. When men are able to not center themselves but center the story of women in their own lives. When they are willing to make that connection and not disconnection, when they’re able to let their threat level de-escalate and elevate their calm pathos, their community passion joined together. Some of my favorite thumbprints on our collection of thumbprints are men that would stand physically at the tables where I at the beginning I was actually collecting physical thumbprints which meant a lot to the women that in the war zones that were actually seeing them. I would bring them to the places or to the top of Kilimanjaro or to was most recently in Aleppo, Syria where I showed a group of women a collection of about 200 thumbprints. And people put their names, just their first names under their thumbprints on these banners and it was named like Harry or George or John that they paid a great deal of attention to because the idea of men centering the stories of women in their own lives as well as in their what they say and what they do was so foreign to them it was actually healing for them. So absolutely, we need everybody’s thumbprints and I would say this because let’s go back to our original question instead of asking What is empathy we ask who has empathy. And it’s the examples of who that help us define what it is. So everyone has empathy biologically and spiritually we are hardwired and soft-wired for it and the book Brave Souls makes a case for that.
Sandie [00:33:40] Well my thumbprint went with Kim to the top of Kilimanjaro. And I am inspired by that. I’m also our time is up, I am so excited that you’re coming to Vanguard in the fall for the book launch and we will invite everybody to meet you. We’re going to keep following this. We’re going to keep collecting thumbprints and we are going to stay centered on the story of empathy. Oh Belinda, thank you so much.
Belinda [00:34:12] Oh my pleasure.
Sandie [00:34:13] For being part of our podcast today. There’s just so much, people follow her on her web page, her Facebook, we’ll put all the links in our show notes. And go on Amazon and get Brave Souls and start your ascent.
Dave [00:34:31] Sandie and Belinda thank you so much to both of you for what an insightful conversation. You know Sandie so many things that are just required of us to really make a difference in ending human trafficking that we talk about many of the obvious things on the show often and just as important if not more so the skills that we need like empathy and I’m so glad that we’ve had this conversation today. And we’re inviting you as well to take the first step. In addition to learning more about Belinda’s book, as Sandie mentioned, hopping online and being able to dive in on some of the past episodes may be helpful to you and endinghumantrafficking.org. While you’re there, download a copy of Sandie’s book, The Five Things You Must Know, a quick start guide to ending human trafficking. This will teach you the five critical things that Sandie has identified that you should know before you join the fight against human trafficking. You can get access to that by going over to endinghumantrafficking.org. And as always, if we have generated a question for you, send us a message at firstname.lastname@example.org. And if you’ve been listening for a bit and found the show useful, take a moment to leave a rating or review on whatever service you use to listen to podcasts. Have a great day and Sandie, I’ll see you again in two weeks.
Sandie [00:35:55] Thanks, Dave.
Dave [00:35:56] Take care, everyone.