Empathy starts in your body. Every cell in our bodies resonates with the world around us. We are more or less in connection depending on our ability to relax and soften into the moment. when we empathize…and by feeling in our own bodies the stories of another, we empathize with their suffering, or joy. Empathy is critical to caring, compassion, connectedness. We feel less alone the moment someone empathizes with our suffering. So much of healing is based on that moment.
A colleague told me recently about how it is more important to develop empathy than analysis. That really got me thinking. I am intensely analytical at times. It is important to me to think things through thoroughly.
However, it can become a trap when I get locked into trying to fix or solve a perceived problem. If the problem is rooted in an old hurt, old feelings, no amount of analysis to find a solution will help. There is no solution but to empathize, to have compassion, to hold and allow, to witness. These are the paths through the stuck places, because allowing is so much more powerful than we have been led to believe.
We live in a world that acknowledges the critical role empathy plays in bonding, learning and connectedness. It is foundation for how we are able to care for ourselves and others. It softens our hearts and lets us listen better in the midst of a conflict. It helps us to see the other point of view and modulate our behaviour or tone when we are possibly hurting someone. It is a great way out of the power struggles that are part of parenting and other relationships.
What is glaringly lacking in our world is the practice of developing empathy. We need to create cultural codes that celebrate and cultivate empathy and compassion. How do we do that? If empathy is so important, ask yourself whether is it reflected in our institutions like our education and justice systems. It is clearly part of Sesame Street, but is it part of Wall Street? Are our parenting books focused on how to empathize with your children, and thereby educate and empower their emotions and communications? Are the parenting styles that you see around you based on an empathetic practice of seeing the world from the child’s perspective and understanding how helpless and caught they are in the adult world? Do we see children as fundamentally good, loveable and loving, or as needing to be taught to be good, via discipline, control and punishment?
In a way, empathy is linked to safety. We can empathize when we feel safe in ourselves. Empathy is a path to safety and healing from trauma. Empathy is the root of compassion, the ground from which it can grow. There are simple practices that foster this valuable state of mind, which we can learn, teach and practice.
list empathy exercises…