If you are an interpreter, you must know the true meaning of emotions. Everyone has expectations and ideas (grand or otherwise) of themselves – this leads them to feel and act in certain ways.
Notice I did not say ‘people have anticipations’ (looking forward to what is coming, knowing it is good irrespective of how it will happen). Most people have expectations (projecting a fictional reality onto the future).
Why is this distinction important? Because most people’s day-to-day lifestyles are conditioned by belief systems and cultural conventions. We are told to be kind and good people (to recycle and use less plastic) but we are not teaching people how conditioning affects us at the core, and we surely do not teach people fundamental skills like ‘holding space for others’ and letting go.
We all talk about living in the present, or in the moment, but how many people can live outside their comfort zones? Just happy with minimal clothes and possessions? Just happy with simple meals and comforts?
We are a hoarding society – we voraciously collect hats, shoes, books, yes, mostly physical possessions but we also do the same with thoughts and emotions without noticing it.
This private life hoarding leads to professional hoarding. Meaning you will be more inclined to associate with others’ feelings and emotions. Some people become used to gossip, others captivated by external emotions (like soap operas or real-life shows). Mental repetitions lead to creating mental habits (of desires/ emotions/ states).
If you hoard the emotions of others, thoughts, images you hear about, you are hoarding and harbouring their baggage full of stuff… good or bad. It can be news of a newborn or the death of a newborn. It can be the gossip of a wedding or the systematic abuse of a child.
Hoarding personal emotions leads to the addiction of storing other people’s emotions. People are not taught to ‘hold space’ for others. People are taught to be compassionate or be kind to others, but if these teachings are not fully explained they lead to idealistic behaviours that harm us.
For us interpreters, it translates into vicarious trauma. Did you know that one synonym of vicarious is empathetic? The ability to understand and share the feelings of others.
Why is this important for interpreters?
Holding space for others does not include ‘us’ in it. We allow the other to be, to suffer, to be emotional but we do not succumb to their emotional states. Holding space allows us to be present during their emotional journey, accepting them as they are rather than how we think they should be. Holding space allows us to let go immediately afterwards and ultimately be free of their suffering.
We often confuse compassion with empathy – as interpreters we need to understand what others are going through (cognitive empathy) but we do not need to be helping them (compassion). If we start feeling what others feel that is emotional empathy. The more we connect ourselves with their journey of words and emotions, the more entangled we are and the more difficult it is to disengage. Therefore more susceptible to ‘vicarious’ trauma.’
Interpreters are the voice of others therefore we should only connect at a cognitive level, not an emotional level.
How do we achieve this? By being honest and asking ourselves the real meaning of our actions. Why are we meddling in the conversation of others? Why are we drawn into others’ emotional states? Yes, we are all human and occasionally we can feel more for a particular case or person because it hits home, because it is disturbing but those are the exceptions, not the rule. The rule is to stay detached. However, detachment is not indifference. Detachment is synonym with impartiality in fact. According to Ghandi, detachment is the prerequisite for effective involvement (as in participation not as in association).
Often what we think is best for others is distorted by our attachments to our opinions. We want others to be happy in the way we think they should be happy. But why would we think others do not know how to be happy, but we do? How can we know better than them? Because we are addicted to being kind, doing the right thing, or being a good person.
Perhaps we need to teach equanimity to interpreters. How can we be equanimous? By noticing the presence of others in a non-judgmental way. We are mindful of their words without being attracted or repelled by them. We understand the nature of suffering and the results of trauma but we are not compelled to relieve them from what they are going through.
Interestingly enough, one of the techniques for developing equanimity consists in trying to develop an impartial attitude towards all human beings. Which reinforces the notion above that what you are in your personal life reflects in your professional life. If we develop equanimity (impartial attitude) in our private lives it will become second nature in our professional life when interpreting.
By Helena El Masri
Next – The Equanimous Interpreter