Do you ever wish you could be more compassionate? Wish you weren’t as critical of others, or of yourself? Luckily there’s really only one thing you need to do to become more compassionate. Have empathy. Empathy is the experience of putting yourself in somone’s shoes. Its about really feeling what another person feels. Its about identifying and connecting with the core desires and concerns in others and oneself.
Sympathy is when we notice another’s suffering, and feel pity but we keep ourselves at a safe distance. Empathy is stronger, it is actually entering that other person’s world. Feeling their pain as if it were your own.
But there are three things that stop most of us from empathizing with ourselves or others.
First, we’re often feel scared. We’re scared of lots of things. You might be scared that if you embrace this person’s world you will lose your own perspective. You’ll become just as sad as they are, or you’ll start agreeing with them and lose your perspective. You might be scared that if I empathize with someone then you wont be able to take care of yourself as effectively. You might be scared that if you let yourself feel that much, you’ll get hurt. Fear is a big obstacle that stops people from reaching out and connecting with others. But this fear of connecting with others stops us from being the fully compassionate beings we can be. This fear may never go away, and so we need the courage to empathize with people even when we are scared.
Second, we might think that they’re just wrong. When someone’s doing something I disagree with, I often have the thought “you’re wrong”. One time a participant in a workshop said “this exercise was boring”. My immediate reaction in my head was “well then you didn’t do it right”. And as I was having that belief I felt all this resentment and resistence to this person. Luckily, I checked myself before speaking….I noticed this thought and identified the underlying feelings and needs. I was scared that I wasn’t being appreciated & supported. I then was able to voice my anxiety in the moment, as well as my desire for the participant to get the growth they were looking for. But as long as I viewed that participant as wrong there was no way I could extend empathy and thus compassion to them.
Third, we don’t know how. Or put more accurately we’ve forgotten how. It seems to me that my most natural state is to be compassionate. When I’m compassionate I’m struggling less, I’m more present in the moment, I feel more relaxed. What could be more natural than those things? Our culture though doesn’t teach compassion. Certainly little pockets of our culture do. And certainly large pockets of our culture gives compassion and empathy lip service. But the large message I hear when I see the news, most movies, and most television is to get what your’s. That the world is dog eat dog, and you’ve got to get what’s yours first. That you need to win. And so after decades of that kind of training must of us forget how to empathize and connect with another person. We’ve learnt to just view the world through our own ego. And so if you find yourself here the lucky thing is that there are lots of great teachers, books, and exercises to relearn how to empathize with others. For starters just try this: the next time a friend is venting to you, stay quite. Nod your head, try to mirror the other person’s facial expressions. And when they pause ask them how they felt when that happened. You might be surprised by the results.
KindCommunication.org is a project by a close friend of Wiki World Order, Alex Leach. WWO fully supports the study, practice, and teaching of non-violent communication as one of the core solutions which already exists.