A few days ago, I spoke at a conference, in Shanghai, on the subject of consciousness. Well, the conference was about consciousness, but I spoke about empathy. Specifically how I discovered the depth of my empathy through depression, introspection, plant medicine and ultimately tuning into the feelings of others.
What struck me most was the different masks the Chinese wear compared to us Americans. We Americans tend to cover up our feelings by pretending to be okay, or happy, or doing well. We have few socially acceptable outlets for anger or grief, fewer still for sadness, and virtually none at all for misery or, incredibly, joy. Our strategy for hiding these emotions is to project a false self who is empowered, confident and clear. We've got it covered. That's our story.
Not so with the Chinese. They're allowed frustration and anger. Beyond that, though, they seem, on the whole, to be playing poker. The mask is emotionless drive -- the undeterred acheiver who is satisfied (never delighted) when the job is done and hyper-focused on whatever task comes next. They project, or try to project, a detached deference to the rules. And they allow themselves outrage when someone does otherwise.
These masks are important. They're there for a reason. They teach us what we value. What I suggested in my talk is that we start valuing the emotions too, start seeing what's really going on, at least in ourselves. We don't beat ourselves up for our culturally conditioned stories. We forgive ourselves, we patiently walk into our own truth, and we step out again when we can't handle it. And so on, with compassion, until we eventually make friends with ourselves.
A few hours ago, I did readings in virtual reality. That means I entered a virtual room as an avatar and read people, whom I saw as avatars, on a social VR platform. It was the pilot (or beta test) for a VR show Eve Cohen and I are developing, currently entitled "I Feel You: The Empath Experience."
Okay, here's how it works. A bunch of avatars join a room at an appointed time. Eve introduces the show and asks for volunteers to be read. Someone steps forward (that is to say they move their avatar to the center of the "room"). Then I ask them a question, any question, just to hear their voice. I use the sound of their voice to tune in -- and off I go. I do my best to see, reflect, and untangle people's emotional states.
The thing I love about being EMPATH in VR is: it's intimate and anonymous at the same time. I can go very deep into someone's psychology (last time I felt that someone was suicidal and said so) with a whole room of people watching all without violating their privacy. Because no one knows who they are.
We're still working out the kinks. But it's promising. People are loving it. Really loving it. The company behind the platform, AltSpaceVR, is thrilled. And it posits a new answer to a question the entire VR community is asking: how can we best use VR to generate empathy? Well, my answer is: put human beings together to engage deeply in their emotions.
You don't need a headset to experience the show. You can actually download AltSpaceVR on a powerful enough laptop and join in 2D. I'll post when the next show is when I know. Stay tuned.
This is the first on camera interview I've given about my work as an EMPATH. Thank you, Stan of HubCulture, for pushing me to do it. Kind of scary, actually: