What is empathy in the real world?
A fantastic example a teacher recently gave me was about breaking a leg…..
Say you’d broken your leg a few year’s ago. It was an extremely painful experience that laid you up for weeks, you had to go back and forth to the hospital because it wouldn’t set right and at one point had to consider you may never walk properly again. This caused you to lose work and money, putting the family under huge financial pressure and causing a lot of stress in your life. It was an all round, painful and terrible experience for you.
You then see a friend outside a shop one day on crutches with their leg all plastered up. If you assume you know how that person feels because you once had a broken leg, you’d be wrong.
Your friend might have had a clean break that wasn’t very painful, but it laid them up for a few week’s, which was a huge relief as they needed a break from a heavy, stressful work life. They sat on the sofa watching rubbish TV, relaxing and having the time of their life catching up with family and friends – it felt like a mini-holiday. They healed fast and were on their feet again in no time.
Now you could either assume you know how the other person feels, which is how YOU felt when you had a similar experience………….or you can stop and actually listen to them and understand what their experience is like for them. THAT is using empathy. To make an assumption would mean you hadn’t really heard or listened to your friend, so would probably talk about how your experience was for you. This could leave your friend feeling unsupported, unheard and certainly misunderstood. This could also make them feel that your past experience was more important than their current one.
Empathy is about truly listening to AND understanding what an experience was like for another and NOT for yourself as each of us is different. If you want to truly connect to people, then never say ‘I know how you feel’ because you don’t – not unless you’ve empathised with them in which case, in this instance, you could say ‘Sounds like that break was a blessing in disguise’ – its also how we communicate after listening to someone that indicates whether we’ve used empathy or not!
Have a think and I’ll blog next week with some exercises to explore using empathy in your own life. Until then, have a fab week.
With Cosmic hugs
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