I recently had the opportunity to show compassion to an individual who has caused me a great deal of pain and emotional distress for the past few years.
It felt good.
It also got me thinking about the subject of empathy.
I have had several “Up Close and Personal Encounters” with empathy or the lack of it in my lifetime.
I married two very self centered men who were not capable of showing empathy to anyone.
My oldest son was so severely abused that he lost the ability to naturally “feel” empathy, so I have spent years teaching him how to be kind and see others points of view.
My youngest son has Asperger syndrome which makes empathy seem very abstract to him, so again, I have had to take the time to explain the whole concept of empathy to my youngest son as well.
I have been judged, mistreated, and abused by people who I thought I could trust, so I have been faced with the moral dilemma of vengeance vs empathy toward them.
So, for me empathy has been kind of a central “THEME” in my life.
So what exactly is Empathy anyway?
Empathy is the experience of understanding another person’s condition from their perspective.
You place yourself in their shoes and feel what they are feeling.
Empathy is known to increase a persons “helping” behaviors.
After watching the news recently, two starkly different images came to mind for me:
The first images were of physicians, nurses, and other healthcare professionals diligently and lovingly providing care to refugees in Syria.
The next set of images were of a violent, extremist group – holding their assault rifles in the air while waving their flags, celebrating the epitome of hate and violence.
How can a single human race be so divided, with people fervently racing toward each end of the spectrum?
The answer is quite simple –
Human beings have a choice whether or not to show compassion and understanding toward others.
When we show TRUE compassion, we can make tremendously positive differences in the world.
Unfortunately, where compassion and willingness to understand others is absent, there is a sense of hurt and a longing for love and acceptance.
Sometimes that hurt is so overwhelming that it leads human beings to very violent measures against each other.
As Gandhi once stated, we must be the change we wish to see in the world.
If you’re going to start,
Start here and now with you…
So if we were to decide today to make a change…What would that change look like?
Where can we begin to make our world more empathetic?
You can learn to practice the empathetic thought…
Start to train your mind to ask these kind of questions…
”I wonder what’s going on for this person?”,
Or “I wonder how I can be of service to them?”
I think that the biggest mistake we make in trying to live an empathetic life is that we believe it stops with… ‘swapping shoes’, so to speak.
To really incorporate empathy into your life you need to realize that empathy is an action plan,
a practice where we guess what people are feeling,
along with a language where we ask them if they’re feeling what we are guessing.
I think the very best place to start is by starting to see empathy as an ACTION, (not just a emotion),
A place where we act on our guess by adding ‘ing’ to Compassion.
By adding the “ING” we create movement, or action to our emotions.
We start ‘Compassion-ing’.
(Hopefully you are starting to see that empathy is a longing or a need that we all have for deep understanding.)
When I explained it to my two boys this way,
And then role played this for them,
The proverbial light bulb went off…
And they finally started to understand how to BE empathetic.
There is another side to empathy that is rarely ever discussed.
We rarely discuss this side because we wrongly assume that if we do “this”, then we are NOT being empathetic.
But we all need to remember that LOVE, COMPASSION or EMPATHY will NEVER tolerate Bad Behavior!
So the side of the empathy that we forget to talk about is those times in our lives where we must learn to say “NO” to a request.
Part of being an empathetic human being is knowing where your boundaries lie, and then enforcing them when someone tries to cross them.
We all need to have boundaries that you will not under any circumstance allow anyone to ever cross.
So how do you say “NO” in a compassionate way?
You can do this by simply explaining the reason that is preventing you from saying “Yes”.
I have a friend that asked me to help with a family issue.
I can remember the look of absolute serenity on my friends face when I responded to her request with,
“My need to follow my Heart, and keep the promise I made to myself after my second divorce prevents me from saying ‘Yes’”.
How can anyone argue with a “I feel” statement like that
“Put yourself in their shoes,
Look at the world through their eyes.
To empathize with someone does not necessarily mean to sympathize with them.
It’s not quite as simple as “taking to heart” someone else’s circumstances.
To empathize means to make the conscious attempt to trade places with the person (or people) in order to gain perspective.
Often times, we can show true compassion by just being empathetic.
“Our human compassion binds us to one another – not in pity or patronizingly, but as human beings who have learnt how to turn our common suffering into hope for the future.” – Nelson Mandela