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A Time for Growth: The World Needs More Empathy

Davis-ChrisEmpathy has many definitions, but simply put it means recognizing and sharing the emotions of another person and having a desire to help them. It involves seeing the situation from the perspective of another and sharing their emotions, including distress, anger, loneliness and fear.

Often associated with empathy, compassion, pity and sympathy are emotional reactions to the discomfort or misfortune of others. While pity and sympathy are defined as feelings for someone else’s discomfort or misfortune, having compassion for someone involves feelings of wanting to take action to help alleviate the suffering of others.

Having empathy includes understanding that there are many factors that go into decision making and cognitive thought processes. Life experiences, from childhood to dinner last night, influence the decision making choices of today. Understanding this allows a person to have empathy for individuals who sometimes make illogical or irrational decisions or react poorly to situations. Having empathy doesn’t mean you must make excuses for poor behavior, but typically there are emotions behind that behavior that are likely deserving of your empathy. And in giving that, you could be providing comfort and support – without making excuses for actions.

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Source: Burton, Neel. “Empathy Vs Sympathy: Sympathy and empathy often lead to each other, but not always.”

Everyone is born with the capability of feeling empathy. While some feel it more naturally than others we can all work to develop and grow our empathy—it can be learned. If we develop our empathy toward one another as adults, and develop it in our children, the benefit to our community would be significant.

Ways to Grow Your Empathy:

  • Be Aware of Your Surroundings: Unplug your devices, make eye contact in the coffee shop, say hello the person in front of you in the grocery story. Imagine if we all did this once a day, you never know what someone else is going through.
  • Listen: Be present, listen to what is being said to you. Put your phone down and don’t interrupt.
  • Express Your Perspective: Not your opinion, not what you think the person should do… “That must feel awful.” “That is a lot to deal with.”
  • Don’t Make Assumptions: You may think you know how to fix a problem for someone within a few minutes of learning about the issue. Have patience, listen, and give time to hear them out.
  • Be Creative and Use your Imagination: Developing true empathy involves the ability to imagine what someone else is feeling even if you have not experienced it – so really listening and using your imagination to try and understand is critical.

Most important? Practice modeling empathy for the children and young adults in your life. Talk to them about what empathy is and why it is important to you.

Source: Burton, Neel. “Empathy Vs Sympathy: Sympathy and empathy often lead to each other, but not always.” Psychology Today. May 22, 2015. https://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/hide-and-seek/201505/empathy-vs-sympathy

The Compassion Project: Let us be the ones who transform our world by allowing compassion to lead our action. Throughout the year, this column will feature the various ways to have compassion for others, for our specific organization, and for yourself.

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