Sometimes a Facebook feed full of bad news can be too much, and we are tempted, or even forced to shut down emotionally at the sight of it. While this is a completely understandable coping mechanism, it is important to be aware of how often and when we do this because being connected to others and the world around us through empathy is a powerful and important part of life. However, in our busy and stressful lives, making this extra effort can often be swept under the rug. Read more to learn about how you can incorporate more empathy in your daily life!
THE POWER OF EMPATHY
by Camara Chea
How often do you think about the lives of those around you? The talkative person across from you on the bus, the noisy roommate next door, the friend you eat dinner with every day? On a normal day, so many individuals greet each other with the customary “how are you,”and the usual response? Maybe a robotic “I’m fine, how are you?” or a cheery “I’m good, thank you!” How often do we stop to have a real conversation with others and really see how they are doing? That is, how often do we try to step in the shoes of others and see things from their eyes?
Empathy is an act of building a bridge, a way to establish and sustain social connection. Empathy is defined as “the action of understanding, being aware of, being sensitive to, and vicariously experiencing the feelings, thoughts, and experience of another of either the past or present without having the feelings, thoughts, and experience fully communicated in an objectively explicit manner” (Merriam-Webster). When another human being allows you to see them as vulnerable, how do you respond? Do you seek to understand their feelings and perspectives?
I agree that it can be easy to get trapped up in our feelings and emotions, to ignore the real experiences of both strangers and friends. But think about what happens when you speak, when you think, when you listen — how do these all change when you do them with empathy? As outlined by the Greater Good Science Center at UC Berkeley, research shows the many positive implications of empathy: it can reduce racism and prejudice, inhibit bullying, deepen relational intimacy, and encourage attitudes against inequality. I definitely recommend reading the article in full to read a rich and comprehensive discussion on empathy, its importance, and other key ways to nurture it. You can find it here at http://greatergood.berkeley.edu/topic/empathy/definition.
According to another article, by the BBC News, it is possible to learn how to be more empathic. Their article, “Can you teach people to have empathy?,” references research on this topic and describes three significant strategies that you can embrace to cultivate an empathic orientation toward the world: 1) radical listening 2) mindful awareness and 3) curiosity about others’ lives. To read more in detail, go to http://www.bbc.com/news/magazine-33287727.
Some other methods, provided by the Greater Good Science Center, include refraining from judgments and assumptions, taking the time and energy to actively imagine what another might be feeling or going through, and thinking about the shared qualities and commonalities of the seemingly different individual.
Would all of the world’s problems go away if everyone practiced empathy toward one another? That, I cannot say. But I do believe that in practicing empathy regularly, people can make a positive impact on those around them and increase their own emotional intelligence. When someone speaks, try really listening, with both open ears and an open heart. Make room for other people’s testimonies, even if they may be different from your own. While you can never fully understand someone else’s experience, and there are limits to empathy, you might be surprised at what can happen the more you practice it. With that, I hope that with these articles, you may feel more inspired to be more empathic to the people in your lives!