In a world that celebrates individualism, empathy often takes a backseat. But what if I told you that empathy holds the key to personal growth, thriving relationships, and social cohesion? It's true! While vulnerability lurks in its shadows, empathy enriches our understanding of others and nourishes our own well-being. Without it, we face interpersonal turmoil and communication breakdowns. So, it is time to make a conscious effort to develop empathy.
As far as the reasons why humankind has evolved as much as it has, our ability for teamwork and communication are up there next to factors such as our intelligence, natural curiosity, and opposable thumbs. In other words, every time you enjoy one of the many comforts that humanity has created for itself, know that a large portion of the reason why we have those comforts is the fact that we are able to work together as well as we do. Sure, this may be harder to believe when you see two friends having a heated argument over something miniscule, but it’s still a fact of life that we, humans, are actually quite proficient at working together. Part of this is, of course, due to our natural intellect. However, raw intelligence isn’t always enough when it comes down to teamwork, social cooperation, and keeping a group of individuals together. There’s another element required here and, unfortunately, one that many people disregard, ignore, downplay, or simply forget about. I am talking about a specific type of intelligence known as “emotional intelligence” and a core part of being emotionally intelligent is having high levels of empathy.
Nowadays, the Western society is highly individualistic - from an early age, most people are taught that they should make their own way in the world, first and foremost focusing on personal growth in all aspects. This isn’t inherently a bad thing, because it teaches people to be self-reliant and to be proactive in their lives, rather than waiting for others to push them forward. However, one issue with this individualistic mindset is that it causes a lot of us to ignore or outright actively discourage the skill of having empathy towards others.
Part of the reason why this happens is that we often forget that we are always a part of something bigger, which we depend upon. This could be our family, group of friends, neighborhood, city, country, or even the entire planet Earth, and the well-being of either of those directly reflects upon our own well-being. For this reason, empathy towards our fellow man is such an important part of leading a good, fulfilling, and successful life. It is what allows us to not only grow and flourish together, which is a lot more powerful compared to only getting ahead as an individual.
It’s understandable why some might think that empathy is actually an ability that can make a person’s life more difficult. After all, this skill lets us see the world from another person’s eyes, feel their pain, anguish, frustration as if they were our own. However, each of us already has enough on their plate to add to that the negative feelings and emotions of another.
High levels of empathy also makes us more vulnerable to manipulation. There are indeed manipulative people out there who can sense when someone is highly empathetic and then use that characteristic to gain what they want through manipulative techniques such as gaslighting, blame-shifting, playing the victim, and more.
However, this type of people are few and far between, whereas the majority of us will appreciate it when someone else is able to place themselves in our shoes and truly understand how we feel. It makes the weight of our pain half as heavy and the intensity of our joy and happiness twice as powerful.
When it comes to living among others, a lack of empathy is often the root cause of all kinds of interpersonal problems. Just think about it - would you really be as insulted when the grocery’s store cashier is being rude to you if you knew that he/she has had a very rough day and simply lacks the mental capacity to be nice to people at the end of her exhausting shift? If you have any semblance of empathy towards others, chances are that knowing the context behind someone’s actions and behaviors will very often make you more accepting of what that person has done or said, even if you don’t necessarily approve of it. Sure, all people should carry responsibility for their actions, words, and even thoughts, but at the end of the day, we are all human, and we all make mistakes. It is empathy that allows us to look past those mistakes, understand the other person, and try to calmly resolve any problems we may have with them rather than responding in a cold or even hostile manner.
Lacking empathy (or refusing to use it) and always seeing a situation from our own narrow point of view is what leads us to be angry, insulted, or frustrated at somebody. But if we want to break this cycle and become better at resolving our issues with those around us in a constructive and civilized way, the change should start with us. And yes, it takes hard work, patience, and time to become better at using our empathy, but will be well worth it in the end. Things you can try to develop and make better use of your empathy include listening more to what other people have to say, trying to look at each situation from multiple angles, reading books on the topic of empathy, and even joining a training course. For example, if you feel like your inability to emphasize with others is causing you to become easily angered by people or is making it difficult for you to communicate with them, you can try joining an anger management course or a communications skills course. This can help you learn techniques for handling your anger, frustration, or inability to place yourself in another person’s shoes.
Ultimately, it’s important to remember that we’re all different individuals, born in different families, countries, and cultures, and taught different values. Additionally, we all have different brains and personalities, which are largely not controlled by us. Therefore, it’s understandable if a given person is finding it more difficult than another to empathize with those around them. This is okay. What’s not okay, however, and what’s prone to causing issues is refusing to acknowledge the value of empathy and thinking to yourself that you should never care about others or even attempt to see things from their perspective. Ultimately, even if you are a very self-centered and individualistic person, failing to explore different points of view and palace yourself in someone else’s shoes will only serve to alienate you from other people and turn you into a social outcast, which is a scenario in which humans, as a whole, are poorly suited for.
In conclusion, empathy is often overlooked and undervalued in today's individualistic society. However, it is a crucial skill that fosters social cooperation, teamwork, and overall well-being. While high levels of empathy can make us vulnerable to manipulation and emotional burden, the benefits outweigh the risks. Empathy allows us to understand others, alleviate their pain, and strengthen our connections. Without empathy, interpersonal problems arise, and conflicts become difficult to resolve. Developing and nurturing empathy requires effort and patience, but the rewards are immense. By actively listening, considering multiple perspectives, and seeking personal growth through training or courses, we can unlock the power of empathy and create a more compassionate and harmonious world.
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