Have you ever heard these words being uttered whether directed at you or to someone else: “You are not listening to me.” “You just don’t understand and what is the use of explaining?” “You just end up doing what you want anyway.”
These are all examples of a lack of empathy for the other. We will delve into what empathy is and why it is so critical especially now more than ever before. From there, we will explore six guidelines on how to have successful interpersonal relationships whether in your personal or professional life.
A highly empathic person feels and shares someone else's emotions. With the empathy lens, they are seeing another person's hopes, conflicts, and vulnerabilities from their vantage point, while still knowing and feeling their own.
Empathy differs from sympathy, which is understanding and caring about someone else's grief or misfortune, but not necessarily feeling it. Don’t confuse it with kindness, pity, or with the Golden Rule, “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.” As George Bernard Shaw pointed out, “Do not do unto others as you would have them do unto you — they might have different tastes.” Empathy is about discovering those tastes.
An example of empathy in motion is when someone has just lost their home to a fire, and a friend hops in his car to deliver clothes. They shed concerns for themselves and spring into action. Our daily lives are filled with small acts of empathy, and history is filled with even greater ones. The key to triggering empathy is often being able to identify with a person. It is as if they are stating “when I see you, I see me” which is a line from an often recited Native-American song.
According to Roman Krznaric, "Empathy doesn’t stop developing in childhood. We can nurture its growth throughout our lives — and we can use it as a radical force for social transformation. Research in sociology, psychology, history — and my own studies of empathic personalities over the past 10 years — reveals how we can make empathy an attitude and a part of our daily lives, and thus improve the lives of everyone around us."
Aristotle stated that one attains virtue through practice. Now, the question is: How can you attain the virtue of empathy? In an answer to this question, let’s start by exploring the first two habits excerpted from Roman Krznaric’s article, Six Habits of Highly Empathic People, and may it support you in navigating life’s journey!
Highly Empathic People (HEPs) have an insatiable curiosity about strangers. They will talk to the person sitting next to them on the bus, having retained that natural inquisitiveness we all had as children, but which society is so good at beating out of us.
Curiosity expands our empathy when we talk to people outside our usual social circle, encountering lives and world views very different from our own. Curiosity is good for us too: Happiness guru Martin Seligman identifies it as a key character strength that can enhance life satisfaction. And it is a useful cure for the chronic loneliness afflicting around 1-in-3 Americans.
We all have assumptions about others and use collective labels — e.g., “Muslim fundamentalist,” “welfare mom” — that prevent us from appreciating their individuality. HEPs challenge their own preconceptions and prejudices by searching for what they share with people rather than what divides them.
Krznaric believes that “the 21st Century should become the Age of Empathy, when we discover ourselves not simply through self-reflection, but by becoming interested in the lives of others. We need empathy to create a new kind of revolution …. a radical revolution in human relationships!”
Over the last ten years, neuroscientists have identified a 10-section “empathy circuit” in our brains. With that, here is a question to reflect on: Even though we may be wired for empathy, how can we develop and grow our latent empathic potential?
In Part 2 we continue to explore and expound upon even more habits to cultivate that will only improve the quality of our lives.
Goleman, Daniel. Emotional Intelligence. 10th Edition. 1995. Bantam Books.
6 Habits of Highly Empathic People, Roman Krznaric.
How Empathy Works, Melanie Radzicki McManus
5 Everyday Exercises for Building Empathy, Knowledge.insead.edu.
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Mariam is a freelance writer offering support for businesses & entrepreneurs locally and globally. She brings a significant amount of experience in the corporate marketing industry and as a freelancer in content management, internet research, blogging, article writing, copy editing, and proofreading.
Her mission is to empower business owners to produce content that clearly and authentically communicates with their target audiences, ultimately making lives less stressful as well as allowing for more free time to live more well-balanced and healthier lives.