Catch Ashok Bhattacharya on the #PirateBroadcast™
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Introduction: [00:00:00] Welcome to the #PirateBroadcast™, where we interview #interestingpeople doing #interestingthings. Where you can expand your connections, your community, #kindnessiscool and #smilesarefree. Let’s get this party started.
Russ Johns: [00:00:10] We're here. We're live. Welcome aboard!
Ashok Bhattacharya: [00:00:13] How are you doing Russ?
Russ Johns: [00:00:15] Good to see you. Good to see you. So how are you doing?
Ashok Bhattacharya: [00:00:23] I just spent about 10 minutes trimming my beard. Because the last thing I wanted to do was look as if we were in a beard competition and you've won hands over beard. I've been jealous of your beard ever since I've seen it.
Russ Johns: [00:00:35] Well, thank you so much for taking the time out to share some things with the pirate community. I really appreciate that.
Ashok Bhattacharya: [00:00:41] It's my pleasure to be here with you.
Russ Johns: [00:00:44] So for those that are not familiar with who you are and what you're up to give us a little snapshot about how you showed up today and why you're here.
Ashok Bhattacharya: [00:00:54] I've been working as a psychiatrist for over 35 years. In fact, I've been involved in psychiatry for my entire life. My dad was a psychiatrist. I was born and raised on the grounds of a psychiatric hospital. I've worked as an orderly in a psychiatric institution in my teen years. And as soon as I got into med school, I was that guy that everyone used to speak to in recess, especially the girls. So I thought I may also see if I could make a career out of this. So I got into medicine, graduated and medicine wasn't really my thing. I love it. It's interesting. But I'm interested in the mind. And I got involved in psychiatry back in 85, which was the wrong time. My timing was horrible because I was interested in the mind, but Prozac just hit the North American market. And when Prozac came in, which isn't, I'm not against medications, that's not the point, but it turned psychiatry from a brain science. It used to be a mind science into a brain science. So we talked about chemicals instead of thoughts. And then, so I've been doing that in my office. I run an office called the empathy clinic. So my main interest is in the human mind, human intentions, relationships, connections, and empathy. And when the pandemic hit, I was on virtual care. Completely like overnight, almost. And when I went on virtual care, I began to realize, oh my God, there's people like Russ Johns out there who are using social media very constructively. So I began to hop onto LinkedIn and started connecting to people like really for the first time. And I realized that there's a whole world out there that might be interested in a message about empathy.
Russ Johns: [00:02:30] I absolutely love that position. And one of the things that I think people may recognize, but really fail to understand completely is how powerful empathy and our thought process and just even #gratitude can change how we think and perceive our environment and those around us. And so I would really love you to talk about how empathy can make a positive impact. Day to day, every day in our lives for people that may be struggling with some of the challenges right now that we're going through, because I think it's so important that people recognize that you don't have to be where you are. You can make some changes and it just takes a little bit of perception. So talk a little bit about how that works in your environment, what you've learned.
Ashok Bhattacharya: [00:03:29] Russ, the first thing I'm going to talk about is what is empathy? And for me, empathy is about negating yourself, putting yourself out of the picture and trying to experience somebody else's experience from their point of view. Now, if people happen to coincide and say, oh, my gosh, I had the same experience like that last year. It's sympathetic to say, I'm sorry what you're going through. I had the same thing. I know what you're going through, but that's not empathic. Empathic is to say, I don't know what you're going through. Even though I went through a similar experience, I'd like to hear what you were going through and that's when the empathy starts. So empathy is, it is everywhere. And I'm going to use the bird example just ever so briefly. And this means that if you see a flock of birds, like a thousand, and they're a ball, right? They're not just a plain of birds, they're a ball of birds, but they're moving as one sphere and schools of fish do the same thing in the ocean. How the heck do they know not to bump into each other? What is happening that maintains the right distance between them so they can move into, can you imagine a thousand human beings were in a ball? I call that directional empathy. So who cares? So what I'm trying to say that for us is that it's so important to be aware of ourselves. And it's equally important to be aware of those beings around us, physically, emotionally, socially, spiritually. And that way, if we have that awareness, it empowers us, but empowers what we are, which is a tribe of people.
Russ Johns: [00:05:12] So I think what came to mind with me and what I was reflecting on when you were saying that is that it's really sympathy versus empathy. And when you're attempting to understand what somebody else is going through, even though you may not have that experience, you have to think about what they're feeling and what their emotions are. So you're almost outside yourself thinking about this process.
Ashok Bhattacharya: [00:05:40] You are completely outside yourself. Thinking about that process, let me give you one more example. We all know brilliant actors. The best actors get rid of them when they're playing the role. So we can't see them anymore. In the role, we can only see the individual they're portraying in their act. So the best actors can empathize with the characters that they're trying to emulate. Meryl Streep for some reason comes to mind. And so you don't see Meryl when she's on the screen, you see her character. So empathy is the same kind of thing. If you keep putting yourself into the understanding of the other person, you are missing out on understanding that person's experience and from their point of view. But people often say empathy is walking in somebody else's shoes. Now that's you in their shoes. That is not them in their shoes. That's a difference. But I think that once you start practicing that, it really gets you to see yourself differently. You feel part of this greater universe. I think we can empathize with things besides other human beings. We can empathize with creatures. Think of dogs. Dogs naturally empathize with human beings. Think of horses. A horse can tell if you're nervous and anxious being around it.
Russ Johns: [00:06:52] Yeah. I've owned horses in the past and I had one that... he and I did not get along and he knew it. And he liked to take advantage of me on a regular basis. There's a long backstory to it, however, I absolutely can relate to that. And so I want to unpack this a little bit for the pirate community and make sure that because sometimes we go into a conversation with our ego thinking that we're going to do something or change something or convince somebody of something. And I think we're in a place right now in the world where we really need to start listening. As I state all the time, #kindnessiscool and #smilesare free, so how can we make a positive impact and how can we share that message in our day to day activities with empathy?
Ashok Bhattacharya: [00:07:48] I think the key for empathy, for me, isn't just being empathic and being empathic. There has to be some reciprocity, which means there's a give and take. So if two people are in a relationship or if two people are talking at work, especially if there are different hierarchies, levels of hierarchy in the workplace, if they have a more powerful understanding of each other, They're in a much better place to serve each other effectively, irrespective of the type of relationship. And if you feel that you have some means to serve the relationship more effectively, the relationship is going to be synergistic as opposed to parasitic or symbiotic. And synergy is when both are amplified even more than one plus one. And so I think that's, for me, that's a powerful way to begin to elevate the people around you. One of my lines is if you elevate the people around you, you elevate yourself. If you elevate yourself without thinking about the other people, that works for awhile, but not for long.
Russ Johns: [00:08:47] So when I highlight brilliant people like you on the #PirateBroadcast, that's a good thing.
Ashok Bhattacharya: [00:08:52] Thank you.
Russ Johns: [00:08:52] I just really appreciate the fact that people are talking about this and we can all have a difference of opinion and we can all have our points of view on our perspectives. And, it's a by-product of our environment and our understanding of how life works. And we have to really understand that not everyone is like us. Not everybody needs to be like us. And so I just really love the diversity in the community and the ideas that are out there and learning about new things. And I see it from a point of appreciation, but not everybody understands that. And I just want to share that word and that message on a regular basis. And so how did you start your journey in this place of empathy? What was it that really triggered you and how did you get started in this?
Ashok Bhattacharya: [00:09:46] I think I was probably born with whatever empathy, empathic capacity people are born with. And some people are born with a little bit too much and we call them hyper empaths. And these are people that sponge and get really overwhelmed and sometimes get distressed and anxious. Especially if they're introverted. So I would describe myself to you as an introverted empath, which means that I learned very early in my life that I was going to be soaking in a lot of stuff. I think that when you have the capacity for empathy, you need to be careful for it. But I think going through my life, especially going through, I was born in England, we had a lot of issues because I'm a hybrid. And so we came to Canada where things were a lot easier. There's certainly more tolerance especially in the days I was born in. And so I've always felt like an outsider my entire life. And that's not bad because I also think sometimes that's how creativity, like I think of Van Gogh, he was an outsider and he was a painter, but people weren't appreciating what he was doing, but he believed in what he was doing. And nowadays we can look at his work and empathize with it. So I think being an outsider has been a very unique experience for me because I've always been looking at the world as if I'm not part of it. I'm used to that kind of disconnecting myself and looking at the world. And then when I do join it, I had these other ways of looking at it that, that I think they certainly enrich my mind. So when I thought about being a healer by becoming a doctor and then becoming a psychiatrist, I thought, wow, I could really use this to understand the people that come to see me. And I call them people. I don't call my clients patients because they're not necessarily coming to me with a disease. They're coming to me as a person with a state of disease. So I'm interested in the whole person who happens to have something they needed my help with, and for me, that's the difference because I'm not just trying to eradicate the disease that they have. I'm trying to amplify synergistically the entire person. I don't want the better. I want the best.
Russ Johns: [00:11:50] That's very powerful. I know that this is may is mental health awareness month. And my life has been impacted with mental health and illness and suicide and a lot of different versions of mental conditions. We all have down days and we all have moments where we were thinking whoa is me and, there's a difference between depression and feeling sorry for myself. And there's a difference between a clinical depression and just having a series of dark days. I have people in my family that have clinical depression and when there's imbalance in their life and when things are not working correctly, it's a challenge to get out of that state. And it's a process and I would like to understand it better. And it's just, I know it's so complex and challenging at times. And so how can we think about helping others that are going through mental challenges or just having dark days? Just listening, to me, is the best thing I can do and being supportive, but are there some other things that we can do to take action to help others?
Ashok Bhattacharya: [00:13:03] I think there's a lot of things we can do to take action to help others, but I want to make it another very specific point about anxiety and depression. So I bought this pen in Bologna a number of years ago. It's a fountain pen and it's a little pricey and I had to wait for it because they wouldn't open the store for me until I banged on the door. Now I'm very anxious about losing this pen. If I lost the pen, I w I'm anxious about losing. If I actually lose it, I'm depressed about it. So the difference between anxiety and depression is about a thing that you either have that you're trying to maintain or something that you lose. And so I don't see these things necessarily as separate things. I see them as connected. And what depression is at its core is the loss of hope. So the most important question you can ask someone who is either clinically depressed or mildly depressed is, do you have hope for yourself? And that can go all the way to feeling suicidal. And if we have hope that changes the texture of depression. And that's when I got super interested in how can we create hopefulness in an individual? How can we create hopefulness for that individual in their community? Because what people often feel when they get depressed. In fact, if they feel any mental affliction is they often feel alienated. They start to feel like that outside person. It gets more and more complicated to share that feeling. And what's happened over the last number of years where we have organizations where people can talk to each other and say, oh my gosh, you have that too. And when we look at the history of some conditions and post-traumatic stress disorders probably be the one that is closest to my heart is that it didn't really come into a normal conversation as a thing until 1980. Like 35 years after the second world war, we're now talking about post-traumatic stress and I'm not talking about it just for veterans. I'm talking about it for abuse and assault and all the other things that have happened. So we have to make the conversation okay. We have to make the conversation okay between people and when people feel that they're not alone. And then the others that have, again sent sympathy, similar situations, then they can support each other in much more meaningful ways and also understand specifically how that person went through their experience. So empathy, and I think, you and I live in big cities where we have so many people and the bigger the city, the more anonymous it is. If we all lived in tribes again, everybody would know our business and everyone would know exactly who's related to who and what people are all going through. So I think to a certain degree, we've lost the tribe and we can bring the tribe back. It doesn't have to be that many people, but bring it back like with this amazing show that you're doing, that creates a sense of tribe. It also creates a sense of connection, self-respect and the belief that people are supporting us.
Russ Johns: [00:15:56] The sense of hope has to be in place at some level in our lives.
Ashok Bhattacharya: [00:16:03] Exactly.
Russ Johns: [00:16:03] I want to go through here, we got quite a few people in the conversation here, and I just want to make sure that we're recognizing them. Russ Hedge says, good morning, Russ. Another pirate, Marcia, amazing human being, two beards today. Cathi Spooner says good morning, pirates. Beard of knowledge, hashtag beard of knowledge, Cathi. Excellent point about medication. I'm a child and adolescent therapist. Absolutely. Thank you so much for being here, Cathi. Nancy, hello friends. Two amazing souls together. Thank you so much. Really appreciate that. A great example of empathy. I love that. I want to come back to that in a moment here. Nick Gemmell thank you from up North. And Nancy is saying empathy and judgment cannot co-exist. And that's a great point. I want to come back to that as well. Yeah. Synergy love your perspective. Karen, morning. Angie is in the house. Thank you so much for being here, Angie, pirate supporter. Marcia says, so grateful Howard Kaufman introduced me to the pirate nation. Absolutely positively. And she asks, how do you see empathy in the world of business and successful business transactions, and relationships? That's an incredibly powerful question because sometimes we separate our lives from our business and especially in social media where it's such so powerful, you have the Instagram famous versus the real life famous. And there's a lot of separation that a lot of depression. And depression and suicide is going up drastically. If you could maybe share a little bit about how we can approach this in a more humane way in a more human like you said, the tribes of conversation that can actually take place and be transparent.
Ashok Bhattacharya: [00:18:03] Russ I'd like to, one of my lines is understanding selling is selling understanding. And if we go into just a car dealership...
Russ Johns: [00:18:13] Say that again, I want to make sure I capture that.
Ashok Bhattacharya: [00:18:16] Understanding selling, like how to sell something, is selling understanding. If you sell the idea that you understand, not maybe them totally, but what their needs are, what their wishes are. And I'm talking about business, I'm talking about sales, I'm talking about business transactions. If somebody feels understood by somebody else, that is a much more healthier, but a more solid platform to start those transactions. And I think that's always been what I do as a psychiatrist. I go out of my way until I feel I have what I call a critical level of understanding of the person that's in the room with me. And I can tell when they feel that because they have the breathing more regularly, the shoulders are down, they're feeling relaxed and they're opening up. They're being vulnerable. Why can't we do that in the business world? We don't have to overshare. That's not what I'm saying, but you have to listen. The simplest thing is getting into a cab and clearly saying where you want to go. They tell you what you've told them. And so where you're going to be going is going to be in the right direction. So now with Uber instantly, you can actually see what the driver is doing, but that means you have even more empathy with the direction that they're attending and to go. And remember the birds, I talked about directional empathy. So I think we can bring that into the workplace. And I used to work in hospitals. Back when I was training and not to bash, hospitals are fantastic places to do a lot of good, but I didn't find that there were as empathic as they could be. In other words, the relationships between the staff, between doctors, nurses, even the custodial staff, they could always be better. And I was that guy that was thanking the person that cleaned the room as much as I was thanking the nurse or the attending, because they're part of that team that makes everyone, it makes it work better.
Russ Johns: [00:20:01] It does make it work better. Karen Ann Joseph says, great interview. Thank you, Karen. I hope you're well, love to catch up again soon. Miss you. What a wonderful addition to the pirate ship. Welcome. Wendy says thank you so much. Nancy says, yes, we must engage in the conversations #taboowontdo hashtag. Pirate tribe alive and Cathi Spooner says humans are wired for connection and we've become so disconnected. The power of empathy and connection is huge for healing. Absolutely positively. I think we could talk for several hours on this subject and I just really appreciate the fact that you're here. And sharing a little slice of something that can be incredibly powerful for some individuals.
Ashok Bhattacharya: [00:20:59] And I think I understand that you are a musician.
Russ Johns: [00:21:03] I am a musician. In fact, last night since my birthday this spring, I've created a track a day. And I have 51 tracks out there for anyone that wants to listen.
Ashok Bhattacharya: [00:21:13] Amazing. I would like to see them and hear them.
Russ Johns: [00:21:16] Yeah, and it's just a process that I use to stay connected with myself and experiment and, go out into the world and put something out there that is hopefully appreciated by someone.
Ashok Bhattacharya: [00:21:28] Oh I'm sure it is. And I've been a musician since I've been a teenager. And when I write music, recording and that's a huge part of my life, but I've always been amazed because my wife and I travel quite a bit, that we can be in any country and you can hear any song and people know the words, they're moving along. And I realized how empathic music is. It brings us all together. Even in times of strife, people can get together and celebrate life empathically by the connection of music. And I think that's one of the reasons why music draws me so much because it helps all those birds to fly without banging into each other.
Russ Johns: [00:22:05] Anyone that has played in a band and understands how to jam can really understand and appreciate what you just said, because it just has that rhythm. It has that groove and you can't help yourself, but start to move when music moves you, you can't stay still.
Ashok Bhattacharya: [00:22:25] But also knowing what note, if you're playing some jazz music, for example, no one knows what's going to happen next and the entire group moves with it. So that's musical empathy as well. So I'm not just interested in empathy in an office. And working with the people that I'm privileged to see. I'm interested in empathy everywhere, like with ants and nature and trees, there's some signs that trees have empathy with each other. Their rooms actually talk underground to each other. Crazy. But this has been going on a lot longer than we've been on the planet.
Russ Johns: [00:22:52] Yeah. And I think we're only barely understanding the power of what it means to be connected, to have those connections in nature, in life, animals and everything. Like you mentioned, dogs are very empathic. Cats, I know I've had cats in my life that know exactly what I'm thinking.
Ashok Bhattacharya: [00:23:14] Exactly.
Russ Johns: [00:23:16] Like dog's the same thing. It's really a powerful tool. And I've been talking about #kindnessiscool for over a decade and I just believe it to my core. And you can't be mean and kind at the same time. So I might as well choose one.
Ashok Bhattacharya: [00:23:32] Another one of my lines is it's really hard to be angry when you're singing and dancing. It's just one of those things where you can be sad, but it's just that sensibility. But I think empathy for me is I'm never going to be an expert in empathy because it's never going to stop. There's always going to be that next question. What are you feeling? How are you experiencing that? And how did it work out for you searching that experience? I don't ever want to be an expert in it. I want to be a continuous people of understanding.
Russ Johns: [00:24:03] Yeah. What instrument do you play as well?
Ashok Bhattacharya: [00:24:07] I started playing bass. And I started to play like a lead guitar. So I started playing guitar. So now when I play bass, I'm calm and I can do all my stuff late and I sing. I'm not a great singer, but I certainly try, but it's good for the soul to sing, I think. And I've been in bands and put myself through med school, playing in bands and all that for decades.
Russ Johns: [00:24:24] Fantastic. I swear we could actually start a LinkedIn jam band. I know several people so we'll have to make that happen. So I just really thank you so much for being here and sharing a few thoughts. And I want to ask you if you could create a snapshot of why and who might want to listen to this episode. Who is this for? And how can it help them?
Ashok Bhattacharya: [00:24:53] I think it's for anybody, but I think it's, especially for people who think empathy can be learned or expanded on. It's not like a brick that you pick up and look at it. It's more like something that will continuously grow and expand. Once you add just a little bit of water, it will become a tree. It will become a forest. It will become the universe. And that's the way I look at it. And I'm so ridiculously over the top hopeful for empathy that I think if I just keep adding water to that little tiny rock, it will turn into a tree.
Russ Johns: [00:25:26] Yeah. Thank you so much for being here. I appreciate you. And you're welcome any time. Welcome to the pirate community. Stay connected everyone. Be well. Be in touch because #kindnessiscool and #smilesarefree and I want you to #enjoyyourday. Till tomorrow. Take care.
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