“It is seeing with their eyes, hearing with their ears and feeling with their heart.”
We as humans live within our spheres of reality, limited to our experiences, temperaments, upbringing. Clashes occur when our “spheres” come in contact with that of others’ and they don’t agree. Making efforts to experience other peoples reality can be achieved with empathy, and even when we don’t agree, we understand others better.
Empathy is the ability to share in the feelings of another. It’s placing oneself in another’s position and experience. It is not just the ability to feel, but to understand, share and connect with someone else feelings. It is seeing with their eyes, hearing with their ears and feeling with their heart.
To be able to empathize, requires some imaginative effort, and often times, going through a similar experience to put yourself in another’s shoes. It entails borrowing the feelings of another in order to really understand them, but never losing your own identity in the process.
It involves certain levels of willingness to extend yourself into another person’s emotional space and sit with them, even if there may be some discomfort. It is a way of saying, “I understand you because I am you, and I am willing to share your pain”, this can only be possible if you are wearing their shoes willingly.
Research on the brain has uncovered a special class of neurons, the “mirror neurons” that allow us to mimic other peoples actions, and emotions. That is why when you see a person smile, we often smile in reply, and when we observe someone experiencing joy or pain, we experience the same emotion to a certain extent.
“Respect others for who they are and the choices they make even if you disagree with them.”
– Victoria Osakue
To be more empathetic take the following steps:
1.Be observant of others: We tend to spend most of our time focusing on “ourselves”. Rather, focus on the state of being of the people around you rather than mocking and criticizing them, ask yourself, “What kind of day are they having?”, “What are they feeling?”. Make efforts to care about their well-being.
2.Be curious: Curiosity about others expands your ability to empathize. Replacing assumption with a sense of curiosity opens us up to empathy. It helps you to see beyond the surface. Curiosity helps to widen a persons horizon on “WHY” a person acts the way they act, and “HOW” people do the things they do.
3.Listen and ask questions: When listening, don’t be in a hurry to shut people down because they propose an idea different to yours, labelling them as wrong and your own as right, or, theirs as inferior and yours superior, rather, ask questions to uncover their perspective.
4.Be in the moment: empathy must involve understanding the current feelings of a person, not the feeling of yesterday or the day before, otherwise there won’t be a connection. The connection created by empathy is healing and positive for both parties. The goal is to ease another’s aloneness and isolation in their plight, even if nothing is resolved or the pain still remains.
Whether at home, at work or in the streets, remember, that it is a conscious choice to focus on the other person’s state of mind before your own. It creates a connection between people, bringing them together and helps to forge relationships and love. It makes us feel as if someone cares, without it, we feel vulnerable and lonely.