Empathy

em·pa·thy –
the capacity to understand another persons feelings and communicate that understanding to them with sincerity and compassion.

The Practice

Empathy as a practice is about understanding and connection. It’s about ‘trying on’ another person’s perspective. It’s about deeply listening and truly hearing someone from exactly where they are at and without judgment or a need to change anything. It is about being real and being present with yourself and with another. Practicing empathy builds intimacy and connects hearts.

 

“Whenever someone is heard, they find more willingness to hear another” ~ Miki Kashtan

The Research

  • Research shows that empathy helps people think beyond themselves and relate to the needs of others.
  • In one study the practice of empathy was shown to reduce prejudice and racism.
  • Empathy is an important tool for limiting or resolving conflict.
  • Research shows that we are hard-wired for empathy and that we have brain circuits devoted to helping us understand how others feel so that we can feel with them. These circuits are like muscles and require practice to keep them attuned and sensitive.
  • Theresa Wiseman identified four defining attributes of empathy:
    • to be able to see the world as others see it – practice taking the perspective of another person.
    • to be nonjudgmental – practice non-judgment. As discussed with worthiness this is often easier to practice when we are living in alignment with our sense of worthiness. Judgment falls away and we find ways to connect with others.
    • to understand another person’s feelings – practice increasing your emotional intelligence and sensing into others emotions.
    • to communicate your understanding of that person’s feelings – practice deep listening and vulnerability.

Why Practice?

Empathy helps us to recognize our inner-connectedness. When we practice empathy we can begin to see ourselves in others. We open our hearts to the pain and suffering in the world and we acknowledge our own vulnerability. Practicing empathy can help bring us closer to others and live with less fear and isolation. If you want more understanding in your life then practice understanding others and see how your world changes.

How To Start Practicing

Meditate – several studies suggest that mindfulness promotes empathy. Specifically, loving-kindness meditation, which encourages participants to focus their awareness and attention on others. If you are new to meditation or the practice of mindfulness there are plenty of ways to get started. Find a class locally, purchase an audio training or go online. See the resource section for additional ideas.

Listen – listening is a practice. Most of the time when we are in a conversation we’re planning what to say next while the other person is still talking. Active or deep listening requires mindfulness and the ability to give someone else our full attention. When you let go of outside thoughts and distractions you create an intimate connection with the other person. Not only is there more of you available but you are able to see more of the other person.

Be Curious – curiosity is a practice. How can you be more curious about others. Instead of stepping into judgement see if you can get curious. Ask more questions and then ask better questions. Curiosity as a practice is an expansive and less fearful way to be in the world and it helps us to be more empathic with others. Step outside of your comfort zone and get to know the people around you. Learn their story and let them know they are seen.

Be Vulnerable – vulnerability is a practice. When we’re vulnerable and we share ourselves with others it gives them permission and inspiration to do the same. Vulnerability is a bridge that helps us build authentic connections with others. It’s from this space that trust is built and with trust others are more willing to offer you a window into their world.

Be of Service – service as a practice can help us step out of our own lives and into the lives of others. There are an abundance of opportunities to help us experience the lives of other people. Volunteer at your children’s school or at a retirement home. Look for shelters or service opportunities in your neighborhood, city or through a faith-based group.

Resources To Support Your Practice

Exercises

Greater Good in Action

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Video

Brené Brown on Empathy

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Website

Empathy Library

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Book

Empathy: Why it Matters and How To Get It

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Book

The Art of Empathy

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Audio

Loving Kindness with Sharon Salzberg

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