Empathy. Essentially it means walking in someone else’s shoes and feeling their feelings.
But what if I’ve never climbed a mountain? What if I’ve never been in the hospital? What about things I can never experience, like, in the case of men, pregnancy for example?
All good questions and where empathy is difficult. How do you empathize when you have no baseline experience for comparison?
While you may not be able to relate to the exact experience, you’ve most likely had the feelings. You do know, for example, what rejection, failure, frustration, pain, joy, happiness, and accomplishment feel like. You can relate to the feeling even if you’ve not done the thing they are doing.
Something I hear a lot from front-line employees who deal with customers is “How can I possibly empathize with someone who is upset about something that I would never be upset about?” My response? “It doesn’t matter whether you would be upset about it or not, they are, and you do know what it is to be upset, so choose to be helpful and rectify the situation. That’s what you would want if you were in their shoes, right?”
Empathy. It’s the starting line for compassion. It’s the point of departure for relationship building. It’s where connection happens. It’s where we all can find equal footing and where helping gets a push.
How to do it? Listen without preconceived notions. Listen without judgement. Listen to understand. Choose to help.
Why do it? Look around. A lot of people are in pain. While I don’t know and can never truly know what it is to be black, gay, or female, I do know what it feels like to be bullied, marginalized, and treated unfairly even if my experiences of those things pale in comparison. And because my experiences were awful and fearful, I know no one should be put through that and am compelled to ask, “How can I help?”
How would our world change if we listened? How would our world change if we tried to connect through empathy? How would our world change if, through this connection, we were inspired to help rather than hinder?
We need listeners. We need empathizers. We need helpers. We need you.
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