We always like to think we are empathetic towards others. But are we really? Do we respond to others by wanting to solve their problem? Or do we judge their actions and say to ourselves (or others) “I would not have done this! S/he should have done this.” Do we really listen to others and take note of what is said – and of what is left unsaid?
In the last few years since moving to another country and settling in a big city, I have noticed a lack of empathy. Not only towards myself and my family, but also towards others that are struggling in some way in their lives. People seem to go through the motions and say the “right” words. However, there is a lack of commitment and feeling behind their words. Instead, I have the impression that people want to move onto the next event or next part of the routine in their lives. There is no desire on the part of people to take the time to sit and listen while another expresses the confusion, the desire, the heartache that is being experienced.
A part of empathy is the lack of judgement, a lack of “you should have done this!” I think of the words Jesus expressed: “Judge not, that you be not judged” (Matthew 7:1) and his extortion that we not judge others so that we can clearly see the actions of another. It is when one is non-judgemental of another that one is able to see and understand why an action was taken. It is when one is non-judgemental that one is able to listen and feel true empathy for the one speaking.
Surrounded by empathy, a person is able to work through the emotions of the experience. I know for myself that if I have an empathetic ear listening to my words, I am able to express my thoughts freely, without feeling guilt or any inhibitions. And it is often with this expression of my inner feelings of fear, or recounting of experience, that I am able to work out in my mind my own response. For me, empathy has come to be a stepping stone towards my own growth as a person.
Lending an empathetic ear has also helped me to grow as a person. Listening to someone without judgement has led as well to fostering stronger relationships, and has allowed me to continue to be the person I want to be. I feel that being empathetic of others is not a weakness; instead I believe it is a sign of strength - in who you are and in who you want to be. It is a sign too that you are not afraid to experience true emotional intimacy with others.
What has been your experience of empathy?
© Colline Kook-Chun, 2012
(Join Kellie Elmore every Friday to free write a response to a quote, poem, image or thought that she has posted. Free write means you pay no attention to editing, your imagination runs free, and you stop only when you are trying too hard to complete a thought.)