Empathy is the ability to experience the emotional states of others in the service of furthering one’s own knowledge and awareness of that state and of the person as a whole.
One of the reasons why people come to therapy is that they want to have an experience of being heard, seen and understood for who they are and not for what other people want them to be or think they are.
In some families there is no empathy. If you are not an exact replica of the parents or elders, you will be criticized and even shunned for your differences.
Some people experience the variation or individuation of their children as a personal rejection or criticism of who they, the parents are because they cannot understand how one of their children can be different than they are. That is a complete lack of empathy for the child!
If more people traveled globally they would get to know a wider assortment of people around the world so that perhaps someday there would be no “they”, only “us” in a different land. Why are we frightened or judgmental, not curious or open about the unknown? Why do we insist that others conform to the ways we know and feel comfortable with? Is it to make us feel safe (or right)? Or are we just lazy and don’t want to put the energy in to empathizing with and understanding others?
Fear is so limiting. When we are able to “walk a mile in someone else’s shoes” our minds and hearts open to a greater understanding of their lives, challenges, hopes and desires and we draw a circle that includes them in it.
I once spent time in a small village on St. Lucia. I was the only white person for a good distance and I got such a fantastic experience of being in the minority. I got a glimpse of my whiteness in a way I could not get from living in a white majority environment. I really value the insight I got from that time.
Our world needs more empathy, less cynicism, fewer weapons, and more connection if we will ever achieve world peace.
For the next month, try to imagine what the Life experience of others is and see what you learn about them – and you!