The Art of Empathy
A guest post by Marie W. Watts
Being the change we seek requires us to practice empathy.
Simply put, empathy is trying to understand another person’s feelings.
According to Merriam-Webster, sympathy implies sharing (or having the capacity to share) the feelings of another, while empathy tends to be used to mean imagining, or having the capacity to imagine, feelings that we do not actually have.
If I have had a divorce, for instance, it is easy to imagine the feelings of another who is going through marital issues (sympathy). However, if I’ve never been in that situation, conjuring up that emotional state may not be so simple (empathy).
Matthew 9:35-38 (NIV) describes how Jesus Christ practiced compassion. Compassion refers to both having empathy and the desire to mitigate the pain:
Jesus went through all the towns and villages, teaching in their synagogues, proclaiming the good news of the kingdom and healing every disease and sickness. When he saw the crowds, he had compassion on them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd. Then he said to his disciples, “The harvest is plentiful but the workers are few. Ask the Lord of the harvest, therefore, to send out workers into his harvest field.”
As our journey in the footsteps of Jesus Christ unfolds, how do we develop empathy for those who are different from us, so we can move to compassion? A few suggestions follow …
When we are in a one-on-one situation:
· Suspend judgment. Don’t judge until you know the person better.
· Ask questions if you think something is wrong.
· Ask about feelings.
· Show concern.
· Pay attention to the needs of others.
When listening, follow these tips:
· Reflect the speaker’s feelings. Example: That must have been a terrible experience.
· Ask for clarification using “I” phrases. Example: I’m not sure I understand. Not You’re not making any sense.
· Use eye contact.
· Show interest through body language.
· Don't plan rebuttals.
· Don't jump to conclusions.
· Give the person your undivided attention.
· Don’t interrupt or impose your solutions.
· Summarize what you believe the person is saying.
Often, we are not in a position to speak with individuals who are different from us. We can still develop empathy by reading or watching programs about their experiences. My next novel involves a character whose mother is mixed race African American and Korean. Until I read an anthology of stories by these individuals, I never realized the pain and suffering they endured.
Lastly, if you are in a position to ease someone’s pain, do so. There’s quite a bit of hurt in the world right now, and we can all use some tender loving care.
Marie W. Watts is a former employment discrimination investigator and human resource consultant with over twenty-five years of experience. In pursuit of justice in the workplace, she’s been from jails to corporate boardrooms seeing the good, the bad, and the ugly of humans at work.
A popular diversity and employment discrimination trainer, Marie has trained thousands of employees to recognize their own biases and prejudices and avoid discriminating against others in the workplace. She has brought her experiences to life in the trilogy Warriors For Equal Rights about the struggles of ordinary people who work at the little-known federal agency, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC).
She and her husband live on a ranch in central Texas. In her spare time, she supports a historic house and hangs out with her grandsons. For more information about Marie and her stories about life, visit www.mariewatts.com.
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