I always tell my students that empathy is not throwing a rope down a well to save someone who has fallen in rather it is jumping into the well and spending a few minutes with them. As we look at the headlines of some of the awful things that are going on in this country, you have to wonder if empathy is a lost art, like letter writing. Empathy is something I have seen disappear over the years. While I doubt that empathy is really disappearing, I feel due to the fact that empathy has been devalued, people are not so willing to show they have it. What I mean by this is, empathy needs to be used on a regular basis in order to be effective and too often we are discouraged from using it when empathy could solve a lot of the social ills we are encountering.
First empathy requires a face to face encounter. Sending prayers and donations are helpful, but nothing can replace a physical presence. Now this is not always practical, but if possible should be considered. If someone you love and are connected to, has suffered a setback, sending a text of Facebook post is thoughtful, taking time to see them or spend time with them can make a great difference in their time of crisis.
Second, you never know what a person is going through when he or she shows up on your doorstep. This is one of the first things a teacher considered when encountering a negative behavior from a student who does not or has not ever exhibited this behavior before. Do you write them a referral or do you catch them after class and ask “what’s up?” Sometimes before jumping to conclusions, you should sit down and communicate and see what the problem is. This is vital as a parent as well when confronting your child about some situation they are involved with and making him or her feel that you are on their side.
Finally, developing a positive relationship with another person will give you an “in” when something arises. Empathy is not lying and telling the person that everything will be alright, because the truth is, maybe everything is not alright, but if you offer honesty and encouragement the person can work it through and put everything alright. Also empathy includes the ability to be a good listener without acting as judge or how this will affect you. You may not agree, but you can’t start putting your own perspective into the situation right away. With empathy, you can help someone through a tough time.
With more empathy, we can reduce the terrible isolation of many people in our neighborhoods, our communities, our counties, and our states. With empathy we have a tendency to develop tolerance of people we would otherwise not have an understanding for. We need to come together and spend a little more time down the well with someone who needs that time.
Take time to let me hear from you on this subject...or any other that is on your mind.
Is empathy a lost art?