Do you care about empathy? (Hint: Yes, this is a trick question.)
Before you answer, consider how you unconsciously think about the word “empathy.” Does it seem like “touchy feely” emotional talk to you? Or, do you see it as an integral component of the person you are supposed to be? Take into account the relationship, leadership, and professional implications as well as the personal aspects, because how you prioritize caring for others will greatly shape the type of person you become.
“No one cares how much you know, until they know how much you care.” (Theodore Roosevelt)
In the book STEPS, the “E” in the acronym S-T-E-P-S represent Empathy, which is the capacity to recognize and share feelings and thoughts that are being experienced by another person. Emotions around relationship, forgiveness, and love often begin with a feeling of empathy as we seek to connect more deeply with the needs of others.
I am not a naturally empathetic person. For a long time, it didn’t occur to me that I should be more concerned about other people’s feelings. I had friends and I loved my family, but most of my thinking was centered on “me.” Even now, I tend to be so preoccupied with my own agenda that I don’t focus on how my words or actions affect those around me, and I don’t listen as deeply as I should. I’m trying to get better, but it is an ongoing journey.
How deeply do you care for others? Take this quiz to get a few clues:
- Do you tend to be aloof and self-absorbed, or are you emotionally “tuned in” to others?
- Are your normal interactions with others self-serving or focused on their needs?
- Are your motives sincere or meant to make you feel good or look good?
If we discover that the way we care for others is too shallow, how do we change? The first step is to become aware and convicted that taking a self-absorbed approach to our relationships is not the right way to live.
The second step is: you just do it. Rather than wait for the right emotion to magically appear, you begin to focus more of your attention on the needs of others. You make the conscious choice to listen more closely, interact more deeply, and take more time with the people in your life.
To learn the third step in acquiring empathy, let’s listen to the character Atticus Finch from the book and movie “To Kill a Mockingbird”:
“If you can learn a simple trick, Scout, you’ll get along a lot better with all kinds of folks. You never really understand a person until you consider things from his point of view, until you climb inside of his skin and walk around in it.”
To summarize, here are three steps to becoming more empathetic:
- Become aware of our normal, self-centered behavior.
- Make the decision to change and begin to act differently.
- Walk in the other person’s shoes to feel what they feel.
What are you willing to change about how you care for others?