Communicate with Empathy
Today, I would like to talk to you about empathetic communication because I think it is especially important recently due to the pandemic and other reasons too.
I will go through it starting with what it is, why we need it and how to achieve it with a number of book references. Hopefully, people would be more aware of the pros and cons of empathy on ourselves and the society. Let’s get started!
The Meaning of Empathy
Empathetic communication means listening with full attention to understand the feelings and perspective of another person.
So what is the word empathy? From the book Verbal Judo, empathy comprises of the Latin prefix em- (meaning “to see through”) and the Greek suffix pathy (meaning “the other’s eye”); hence empathy literally stands for seeing through another person’s eyes. From this angle, empathy is about taking the perspective of somebody else, whether he’s your friend or your employer. Whatever the relationship, empathy is critical.
Empathy does not equal sympathy. It is not required to be fond of the other person to be empathetic; you just have to see things from his side. In fact, empathy is a broad term which could mean cognitive, emotional or compassionate empathy, but this is out of scope here.
“Empathy, alone stands apart from the continuous traffic between good and evil proceeding within us.” — Eric Hoffer
Why Empathy is Needed
Moving on to the whys. First comes a reason for parents. From the book The War For Kindness, children raised by empathetic parents show more kindness, care for other people, and a better ability to understand others’ emotions.
To the child, being empathetic may be advantageous too. From the book UnSelfie, new-found studies reveal that children with empathy are more successful than their peers who are self-centered, let alone being happier and healthier. These are the benefits of empathy.
One more reason why — empathy could save lives. On a related note, click the play button below to listen to this sad but beautiful ballad. Please relax but keep an eye on the lyrics, particularly the last verse.
So I just sit in my room after hours with the moon.
And think of who knows my name.
Would you cry if I died.
Would you remember my face?
This song depicts someone who is depressed and might even have suicidal thoughts as hinted by those lyrics.
I brought this up because the author of one of the books I just mentioned was asked to deal with an attempt at suicide. When he arrived at the scene, he found a man sitting in a bathtub threatening to end his life by electrocution using an electric heater. The author saved him by communicating with empathy.
Quick question. Do you think the author told him:
his life is precious and he should not do it. Or
there are better ways to commit suicide?
(Hmm… tough one huh.)
In such cases, the majority of people would persuade by telling the person he should not do it as life is priceless. However, this is arguing from the viewpoint of somebody to whom suicide seems irrational. It’s an argument that lacks, you know what, empathy.
Therefore, the author told him how terrible electrocution is as a means to commit suicide. He even exaggerated the horribleness. He then continued listing a number of less painful ways to commit suicide. This unconventional method defused the tension and, soon, the man agreed to leave the bathtub!
How to Acquire Empathy
Then, how can we be more empathetic?
One way is meditate, and a memorable method involves using the R.A.I.N. rain approach. From the book Radical Compassion:
R is recognize, recognize red flags such as rushing to get things done.
A is allow, allow yourself to experience what is happening without judgment.
I is investigate, investigate why feeling this way and what you may need to feel better.
Finally, N is nurture, nurture yourself by delivering a message of support inward such as “we can do this,” or “you will be alright”.
Again: Recognize, Allow, Investigate and Nurture. RAIN meditation helps you direct your attention away from the outside and toward your inner self in order that you can be more empathetic.
Empathy Is Not All Good
However, for every yin there is a yang; empathy could also cause problems. From the book Against Empathy, empathy could cause people to make irrational decisions that ends up hurting people instead of helping.
The book lists a number of concerns. One of them being empathy focusing on short-term results, which leads to bad decisions.
For example, when kids want a toy so much that they shed tears, most parents will feel the urge of empathy and just buy whatever their children so desperately want. However, most parents are also aware that children could be spoiled if they give in every time.
Consider another example how organizations try to end the poverty, hunger, and disease which plague other countries in the world. Generally, they target short-term solutions, making those countries dependent on foreign aid, thus slowing down the development of long-term economic reform.
This is where our empathy pays more attention to the present and not to any future results.
From Individual Empathy to Social Empathy
On the other hand, after one is equipped with empathy, the next goal would be for the society to achieve it also.
From the Book of the same title, Social Empathy is at the core of public policies which improve the lives of people. Granting everyone the right to vote, establishing a social security system are a few of the examples. What they share in common is understanding and recognizing the lives of others by considering the broader context as well as the social and historical events that shape the present.
In summary, being empathetic for others is actually good for ourselves and the society, if it is done in a rational way.
What’s next? Check out the book references I have linked above on each of the specific areas that you want to learn more.
I hope this post gives you some actionable ideas on empathy. May we all work on being more empathetic, if you think it is suitable to you. 😊