TED Conversations

Arkady Grudzinsky


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If this were the last day of your life, how would you spend it?

It just occurred to me today that finishing my most urgent project at work wouldn't be on my to do list. I would love to read some thoughts or stories.

...After reading some responses, it seems that most people would do what they always wanted to do and take care of things that they value most. But why wouldn't we do these things in the first place, regardless of how long we have left? I don't mean it as a rhetorical question - it would be interesting to read some thoughts.

Topics: Values

Closing Statement from Arkady Grudzinsky

I'd like to thank everyone who participated in this conversation. Lots of interesting thoughts and perspectives.

Perhaps, most notable conclusions:

1. At the end, we focus on what matters most for us, and for most people it's people we love - most people would spend time with family, friends, write letters, etc.

2. It should not matter whether we live the last day of our life or not. Perhaps, we should just do what we do any other day, like having a cup of nice tea, and enjoy the moment.

It's hard to summarize everything that was said here - worth reading.

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      Jan 20 2013: Dear Kate,
      I wholeheartedly agree..."choosing what to attend to and what to delay is a matter of priorities".

      The day before my brother died, 3 days ago, I was just leaving the house to visit him, when I got a phone call. I could have told the person that I was leaving to visit my dying brother, and he would have understood. However, I sensed urgency from the person on the phone, so I let the conversation evolve. In the back of my mind, I was aware that I have been with my brother a LOT during his challenge with cancer, and I was also aware that he was not lucid anymore most of the time. Who needed my attention more at that moment?

      I chose to listen, and talk with the friend on the phone for 2 hours. When the phone conversation was finished, I called to see how my brother was doing, and was told that he had lots of visitors that afternoon, and he was not conscious.

      I felt good about my choice to be fully present with the person on the phone, and it felt like everything fell into place, as you say Kate:>) I also get approached by total strangers, who share their deepest thoughts and feelings with me.....why? Because I listen and am totally engaged with that person in the moment.
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        Jan 20 2013: Coleen, amazing story. And amazing attitude. I know a person who noticed that people like to share their personal problems with her. Although, she is empathetic and can listen, she believes that often people sometimes use her as an "emotional drain". Often, after listening to other people's complains, she feels emotional stress, often because she perceives her own problems to be greater. So, she doesn't like it much when other people "dump" their problems on her.

        Do you ever think "Why am I having this conversation? Don't I have more important things to attend?"

        The company where I used to work had "10 principles" one of which was "do not suffer fools" meaning "do not support and waste time on small talk at work.

        I would be interested to know what you think about it. Unless, of course, you think that this is not worth discussing which I would totally understand :-).
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          Jan 20 2013: Arkady,
          People cannot "use" us unless we allow that. I don't like it when people "dump" their problems on me either, nor do I simply listen to "complaints". I will talk through challenges with people, and I will not be a "dumping ground".....that is a choice we can all make.

          Years ago a person chose me as her "mentor"....wanted to learn something from me...
          We spent quite a lot of time talking, and it was clear from the beginning that she had "scarcity" issues. Her "problem" as she expressed it to me was that she never felt that she had enough....money.....time....things....etc.

          She was physically attractive, stylishly dressed, lived in a lovely well furnished home and was gainfully employed. I asked...have you ever been without clothing? Shelter? Food? Have you ever been without anything that you need? Whenever she complained about her "problem", I asked the same questions over and over again without sympathy. Finally, she told me that I was not the mentor for her. Apparently, she was looking for a "dumping ground" and sympathy for her "distress", which in my perception, she created for herself.

          No. I never think I have more important things to do than what I am doing at that moment. It is very interesting to be open to how a conversation evolves, and I like exploring the possibilities with an open mind and heart. I would not ever try to predict where a conversation is going.

          I can see the logic in a company not wanting to waste time on small talk. The next question is, who is to decide what is, or is not small talk, and what may really be important? That is pretty subjective isn't it?
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        Jan 21 2013: Coleen, I love your story. Ironically, you gave a very close description of the person I was talking about who believes, others use her to "dump emotions". Perhaps, we get this feeling when we exaggerate our own problems.

        Re: "Apparently, she was looking for a "dumping ground" and sympathy for her "distress", which in my perception, she created for herself."

        Apparently. But in her perception, the "problems" are real. And it is this perception that makes them real (remember our conversation on free will?)

        I share your philosophy that we should not exaggerate our problems. There are always people who are in far worse circumstances or go through far greater pain and suffering than we do. But saying that to a person who seeks our sympathy does not seem to help at all! To the other person, it sounds very insensitive, doesn't it? Response I usually get to this kind of philosophy is: "What do I have to do with those 'other' people? My feelings are my feelings. I came to you for sympathy, not to listen to empty philosophy. I am not going to share my feelings with you anymore."

        The book of Job comes to mind. Sometimes, the problems do seem great, but dwelling on them makes them greater yet. You may have avoided being an "emotional dump", but you have not helped this person either, have you? I don't blame you - your response was most logical and natural. But often it is not easy just to walk away from a person who we care about. Is there a recipe how to help a person like this to change perception?

        I hope you don't consider my post insensitive. I realize that you, perhaps, need sympathy now more than anyone else and here I am with my questions on how to show sympathy to others instead of, well, just showing it... So, forgive me if you feel that my question comes at a wrong time. My heart is with you.
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          Jan 21 2013: Absolutely Arkady,
          Whatever we "think" is real, is real for us. Yes, I remember our conversation on free will.

          If there is a challenge in our lives, we have the ability as thinking, feeling, intelligent human beings, to evaluate information and make choices. When an intelligent person stays "stuck" in a challenge, constantly complaining and distressed about the situation, that is a choice s/he is making.

          "an association, or relationship between persons wherein whatever affects one similarly affects the other; pity"

          This is probably why your other friend felt exhausted....s/he offered sympathy.

          I offer compassion and empathy....not sympathy. I am not here on this earth school to "help" all those who seek help. I did not "walk away" from anyone....she walked away from me because I was not offering sympathy.

          No, I do not seek sympathy.....ever. Compassion and empathy yes....not sympathy. I understand you my friend, and there is nothing to "forgive" because I have not "blamed" you for anything. My heart is with you as well my friend:>)
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        Jan 21 2013: I never thought of a difference between compassion, empathy, and sympathy. There is a difference between empathy and sympathy. Compassion and sympathy, however, seem to be synonyms. Perhaps, by "compassion and empathy" you mean reflecting feelings as an adult who may have had similar experiences, whereas sympathy means comfort and pity - something little children might seek. Is that right?

        You always manage to teach me something. Thanks.
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          Jan 21 2013: Hi Arkady,
          I always manage to teach you something? I'm learning at the same time my friend:>) Any interaction between people who want to learn and grow, provides that possibility for ALL participants. No two interactions/conversations are the same, so each new conversation offers a new opportunity to see, hear, learn something more. That is the fun of not getting "stuck" in our preconceived ideas:>)

          To me and the dictionary, sympathy has an element of pity ("something to be regretted" - from dictionary again), and also what I wrote above..."association/relationship between persons wherein whatever affects one similarly affects the other".

          In my perception, the feelings of compassion and empathy, allow us to connect with others because of our own similar feelings/experiences (putting ourselves in their shoes and imagining how they might feel), and we are not affected in the same way. In other words, we do not take on the other person's pain. That is the piece that can be exhausting.

          My perception of life, is that every experience is an opportunity to learn and grow, so I do not spend energy with "pity". I do not allow other people's experiences to "similarly affect me", nor do I have "regrets" for myself or others.

          I learned this years ago when volunteering at the woman/childrens shelter. After a day with woman and children who went through unbelievable challenges, I would be exhausted, frustrated, and depleted! I was taking on their pain. I realized that if I wanted to continue to support others in their life challenges, I needed to be able to keep myself healthy and strong, rather than let their experiences drain me emotionally. I could feel their pain because I had shared some of the same experiences, and it was not beneficial for anyone, for me to constantly relive my own challenges.

          Sympathy never means "comfort" to me because it has the element of regret, which I do not perceive to be very useful.
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        Jan 23 2013: Thanks for your comment, Coleen. Very interesting thoughts. I need to think about it.

        I'm not very sensitive by nature. I learned to be sensitive to other people's emotions, because my lack of sensitivity often affected my relationships negatively, and I feel bad to be in conflict with someone. So, I thought of sympathy as a positive trait. For example, in situation you described, I would feel bad if my friend decided that I'm not the person with whom she wants to share her emotions and seek reconciliation of some sort. Perhaps, it comes from some fear of being rejected and some insecurity. From what you say, it appears that I need to rethink this attitude and feel OK with being rejected from time to time. I am usually comfortable with that, but not with the people closest to me.
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          Jan 26 2013: Sorry for the delay in responding Arkady. With 3 deaths in my life in the past week (brother and two friends), I have been distracted.

          For what it's worth, I perceive you to be very sensitive, and I have observed your sensitivity growing, as you participate in these conversations. To me, sensitivity, compassion, empathy begins with really listening, hearing, and interacting with respect to otjher people, as well as being aware in our "self". It is about learning to be fully present on many different levels of understanding, which I observe in you.

          The level of sensitivity we can feel and project often does affect relationships, in many different ways. If you think of sympathy as a positive trait, so be it. I do not think/feel that sympathy, regret, pity is very useful, and I respect it if you do see it as useful. That is another choice we can make for ourselves.

          If a friend does not want to share emotions with me, I do not perceive it as a total rejection of "ME". In the example I gave, it was a choice not to share emotions with me because I was not reacting as she "expected", and therefor not giving her what she wanted, so I totally understand and accept that she would not want to share that with me. I agree with what you say....that there may be a fear of being rejected....insecurity. Many times we give people what we think they want in an effort NOT to feel rejected or insecure?

          When we seperate the rejection of thoughts, feelings, ideas, opinions, beliefs, etc., from rejection of the "whole" of ourselves, it leaves us free to be honest with ourselves and others....it does not have to feel like "conflict"......it can feel more like understanding, compassion, empathy in a way that accepts the person and not the idea. Giving someone what we think s/he wants (like pity, regret, sympathy for example), even though we may not agree with it, actually puts us in conflict with ourselves...make any sense?
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        Jan 29 2013: Coleen, thanks again for your reply. It's a sad news that you lost two friends in the past week.

        You got me confused, however. I was about to express my sympathy as, I thought, would be appropriate in these cases, but you say you don't need sympathy.

        Quite honestly, I'm often puzzled about what to say in such cases. Whatever we say, does not help much and would not sound very sincere. Not knowing your brother or your friends, I myself cannot feel truly sad about their loss. Not saying anything, we risk to appear callous. As I remember my own losses, we may seek some advice from people who had these experiences to learn how to deal with them. But it seems to me that your life experience is far greater than mine. I guess, it's for me to thank you for sharing your experience with me.

        But I do feel sad about your losses. That's, perhaps, as much as I can say.
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          Jan 29 2013: Dear Arkady,
          In my humble perception, "sad about your losses" is the PERFECT thing to say:>) Expressing sympathy is always appropriate at the time of a death as well.....sorry I caused confusion....didn't mean too of course.....

          I think expressions of caring DO help those who have lost a loved one, and I appreciate it.
          I attended another funeral this afternoon.....that's about all I can say at the moment.....thank you.
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      . . 100+

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      Jan 27 2013: " To try to understand and especially to clarify it to be sure I'm not misinterpreting. "

      ----Beautifully said Kate!
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        Jan 29 2013: :-) Juliette, I'm sorry... You know for what...
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          . . 100+

          • +1
          Jan 29 2013: Hi Arkady, Please forgive me for not having the slightest idea what this is for :)

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