Are We Living in the Age of Empathy?
If you think you’re hearing the word “empathy” everywhere, you’re right. Buzz is created around all scientists and business leaders, education experts and political activists. But there is a vital question that some people ask: How can I expand my own empathic potential?
According to new research, it’s a habit we can cultivate to improve the quality of our own lives.
But the question is what is empathy?
It’s the ability to step into the shoes of another person, aiming to understand their feelings and opinions, and to use that in order to guide our actions.
The scientist believe that we are essentially self-interested creatures and we are also homo empathicus, wired for empathy, social cooperation, and mutual aid.
The Empathetic Brain
Over the last decade, research identified a 10-section “empathy circuit” in our brains which, if damaged, can limit our ability to understand what other people are feeling. Evolutionary biologists, like Frans de Waal, have shown that we are social animals who have evolved to care for each other. Along with it, psychologists have revealed that we are primed for empathy by strong attachment relationships in the first two years of life.
Empathy can be improved during the whole life cycle. Research reveals how we can make empathy a part of our daily lives, and improve the lives of everyone around us.
Here are the Six Habits of Highly Emphatic People:
# 1: Cultivate curiosity about strangers
Highly empathic people (HEPs) have huge curiosity about strangers. They enjoy to talk to the person sitting next to them on the bus and sometimes they find other people more interesting than themselves.
They having retained that natural inquisitiveness we all had as children, but which society is so good at beating out of us.
Curiosity about unknown expands our empathy when we talk to people outside our usual social circle.
Give yourself the challenge of having a conversation with one stranger every week. All it requires is courage.
# 2: Challenge prejudices and discover similarities
We all have some assumptions about others and use collective labels. E.G. People with tattoos, piercings, which prevent us from appreciating their individuality. HEPs challenge their own prejudice by searching for what they share with people rather than what divides them.
# 3: Try another person’s life
You think ice climbing and Mountain Biking are extreme sports? Then I recommend you to try experiential empathy, the most challenging and potentially rewarding of them all.
HEPs increase their empathy by gaining a direct experience from other people’s lives. Putting into practice the Native American proverb, “walk a mile in another man’s shoes before you criticize him.”
Each of us can conduct our own experiments. If you are religiously observant, try a “God Swap,” attending the services of faiths different from your own, including a meeting of Humanists. Or opposite, if you’re an atheist, try to pass by different churches!
# 4: Listen effectively and open up
There are two features required for being an empathic conversationalist.
One is to master the art of effective listening. HEPs cautiously listen to others and do all they can to grasp their emotional state and needs. Regardless it is a friend who just lost their job or a spouse who is upset at them for working late yet again.
But listening is never enough. The second feature is to make ourselves vulnerable. Removing our masks and revealing our feelings to someone is crucial for creating a strong empathic relationship.
Organizations such as the Israeli-Palestinian Parents Circle put it all into practice by bringing together families from both sides of the conflict to meet, listen, and talk. Sharing personal stories about how their loved ones died enables families to realize that they share the same pain.