Did you see the story on the news about the superhero 4-year-old who’s demonstrating empathy?
“What you do every day should contribute to giving your life meaning. If it doesn’t, why are you doing it?” — Don Hutcheson
My friend and I were talking about a terrible ordeal his family was experiencing. His wife’s mother has lived with them for over 20 years. She is like a mother to him, taking care of everyone’s needs in the house. She has been diagnosed with a terminal cancer. Treatments are happening, but it is a hard, hard journey. His voice trembled trying to find just a little bit of hope as he told their story.
I tried to be encouraging. Don’t think about what might happen in the days to come. Don’t lose today. Find the blessing in this moment, this day. Encourage her to share her stories with your daughter. You do the same, talk about what she means to you.
“We must learn to regard people less in the light of what they do or omit to do, and more in the light of what they suffer.” ―
As I think about the people in my life who don’t seem to have a full tank of empathy it always causes me to get mad first, next comes a rain storm of self pity. Maybe a day later I try to pause to reflect. How do I stop making situations about me and start to think and act toward others – first?
Empathy isn’t that easy. Before you beat yourself up for being too filled up with self pity or too insensitive to everyone around you, consider some of the steps your brain and heart have to go through to really put empathy into full effect. Those who study this human practice have discovered three important dimensions that help us to understand, connect and better help others.
The first is easy to understand, it’s called Emotional Empathy. This describes your ability and willingness to share/understand how someone else feels in particular situations. Our connection to others is so often one that’s based on common feelings. But sometimes it can be difficult for men and women to be empathetic toward each other. They often have different emotional alphabets.
Empathetic Accuracy is a cognitive part of the equation. You have to know what someone else is going through. That doesn’t happen if conversations aren’t occurring or there’s too much discomfort about asking real questions. It’s impossible to be empathetic if you remain safely disconnected from people and their situations. Do you think our communication revolution has improved this sort of accuracy?
Nothing is going to happen if you don’t really care. Empathetic Concern is the essential dimension that describes our will. Do you care enough to think about someone else, to engage your feelings? I think this is the driving force that makes empathy work in my life. I’m trying to get better about this by refusing to jump to conclusions, listening more carefully and even praying for some understanding.
“Love is about bottomless empathy, born out of the heart’s revelation that another person is every bit as real as you are. And this is why love, as I understand it, is always specific. Trying to love all of humanity may be a worthy endeavor, but, in a funny way, it keeps the focus on the self, on the self’s own moral or spiritual well-being. Whereas, to love a specific person, and to identify with his or her struggles and joys as if they were your own, you have to surrender some of your self.” ―
So what’s something you could do today to raise your empathy score? Thinking about it doesn’t really help someone make it another step. Who needs something from you right now, not some time in the mysterious future, but now?