When we talk about empathy we usually define the capacity of putting ourselves in someone else’s shoes. But when it comes to action, it seems very hard to shift from our own perspective to a new one. In this post I’d like to point out why and how we should start changing our point of view on the world around us, in order to start expanding our awareness of ourselves and the others.
1 Empathy is a natural human ability. Humans (and mammals in general) have a strong innate ability to feel what others around them feel. Over the course of evolution this led to the development of today’s complex society, where groups of individual work together for what’s considered to be “the common good”. Empathy is linked directly to our economy and our daily life. This powerful tool, that led to the creation of multi-phased production systems, spiritual groups and (more recently) social networks and global connection systems, has to be cultivated and valued for what it is: a social weapon and a fundamental human ability.
2 Lower your defences. In order to achieve the best out of our natural empathy, we’ll have to lower our defences about the world around us. What we perceive from outside is often a projection of suffering and negativity coming from several sources (in my opinion, most of it comes from the news and the quality of the global information). In order to “survive” all this, we naturally build internal walls to “feel less” and bear with this suffering that we see around us. My advice is once again counterintuitive: drop your defences! You will feel pain at the beginning but most importantly, you will feel something. And that powerful and strong feeling might as well push you to new directions and new resolutions in life. Welcome your empathy!
3 Consider everything relative. Empathy will also relativize the idea that we have of ourselves. No matter who we are and where we come from, we tend to consider ourselves and our lives as “normal” and the rest as foreign, different and exotic. But put yourself in someone else’s shoes long enough, and you’ll start realizing how your position is only a starting point, only a point of view on the world among millions of other points of view. Thrilling, isn’t it? It’s through empathy that we can really experience the realization that all men are equal, as well as that everyone of us is different and unique.
4 Empathy is power. A strong empathy will get you to connect with many other people and effectively communicate and cooperate with them. What does it mean in social terms? As always in evolution, a strong and developed network grants the individual higher possibilities of survival and success in facing changes and adversities. Even in the modern society in which we live, this concept remains valid and effective. If you manage to empathize effectively at work, at school and in your personal life, you’ll grant yourself plenty of opportunities for development, social appreciation and personal fulfilment.
5 You can’t avoid empathy. As a final remark, I’d like to point out that no matter how hard you try to detach yourself from empathy, you’ll never manage to avoid it. As a human being, empathy is a part of yourself: you’ll always have to deal with your “conscience” when you do something that damages or hurts other people. In such situations, be courageous and use your own empathy as an “inner radar”. If you feel bad doing something, stop doing it. If you find yourself hurting someone and you feel bad about it, simply listen to yourself! You always have the ability to “do the right thing”, as long as you follow your “gut feeling” and you stop denying the clear messages your empathy is sending you. Good luck!