Empathetic Antagonism

personal development Aug 25, 2021

Difference-makers like you and I make change happen. That's the gig. This sort of endeavor includes uncertainty and requires embracing that "this might not work" thinking. What's more, most people are not predisposed to seek and embrace seeing and doing things differently.

Think about it, when was the last time you woke up in the morning, clapped your hands together, and bound out of bed saying, "Gee whiz, I can't wait to boldly leap past the edges of my understanding and abilities and fail forward into a new way of seeing and being today!"

We're all programmed by biology, evolution, and institutional education and occupation to stick with the tried and true, do what we're told, and perform within other's expectations.

So, where does the urge to lean through our instinct to play it safe and make today look more or less the same as yesterday?

I call the source of this urge empathetic antagonism.

Most of us have experienced empathetic antagonism in some way, shape, or form. We read a compelling insight we've never considered before. We're inspired by someone who just broke through an old barrier or assumption. Someone shines a light on something we hadn't noticed before but now can't unsee. We collide with a novel idea or perspective that gets under our skin, and we find ourselves unable to resist the urge to itch.

Whatever the source, it is usually an outside influence that creates generous tension that lands in a way you can't ignore. This tension causes you to lean in, embrace the discomfort, and take a bold step into possibility. You give yourself permission to trust yourself. You decide you'll be okay and able to figure out what to do next.

And before you know it, you see and approach yourself and your situation differently. Change has happened. Not only can you not unsee what you now see, you can't undo what you just did.

And then you begin and begin again.

If you've followed my work for any length of time, you probably recognize that you've been on the receiving end of some of the empathetic antagonism I create. Hopefully, you've experienced it as intended, a generous invitation to dance with the discomfort of flying higher in the difference only you can make.

When, where, how, and with whom can you practice a bit of empathetic antagonism today? What change can you help facilitate? Ready? Go.


Scott Perry, Chief Difference-Maker at Creative on Purpose.

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