*You can also listen to this blog post via the All Things Empath-y Podcast (Episode Zero)*
It feels like while the world seems more uncertain, there’s an increase in ‘all or nothing’ thinking (e.g. life is wonderful or terrible). This makes sense; we tend to look for certainty in times of uncertainty. But our views become too fixed, this can cost empathy towards others and their view of the world.
Empathy can be described as the ability to understand another person’s feelings or point of view by putting ourselves in their place.
According to verywellmind.com, empathy is vital for three key reasons:
- It allows us to build social connections with others
- Empathising with others helps us learn to regulate our own emotions
- We help each other more
Barriers to Empathy
One of the barriers to empathy is something called ‘dehumanisation’. It’s where our ability to feel and understand the experiences of people who seem different to us is lower.
This tends to occur more when people are physically further away from us. It could be because one of the key ways to develop empathy is through connection and dialogue with others.
Something that rapidly helps us empathise is spending time connecting and forming relationships with people. So what happens when we’re physically distant from most of the people around us?
And during this time, the way we learn about people is primarily through media content?
Sometimes we only read the headline of what is available.
Perhaps some content is being censored altogether.
Or what we see depends on what we’ve watched or read before.
Most of us are empathetic day day. But our empathy might be limited to people who view the world similarly to us, vote the same as us, or are of the same gender, race, abilities, sexuality, or faith as us.
It’s easier to have empathy for people we relate to, it’s harder to have it for those we don’t. We might worry that if we seek to understand someone else, that means we agree with them.
This is not the case. Understanding where someone else is coming from is not the same as agreeing with them. And by taking the time to hear someone else, we often learn something new in the process.
Separation from Empathy
I’ll share a recent example from a conversation with someone that stuck with me. They mentioned their friend had been sharing content from a media outlet. The person I was talking to disliked that outlet because of its political leanings. And they were trying to decide whether they wanted to hang out with that person next time or not.
It may seem small, yet imagine this slowly happening at scale worldwide within workplaces, neighbourhoods, and communities.
While there is nothing wrong with disliking a political party or surrounding yourself with like-minded people, filtering people we like based on factors such as political views matters and poses a threat to our humanity.
I wonder how these small thoughts, influence our real world actions over time. And impact our ability to connect, accept differences, and co-exist peacefully.
This is because we can’t stay in bubbles forever. Eventually, we’ll have to engage with someone outside of the bubble. The less we do this, the easier it is for us see each other as threats. We’re already seeing the negative impacts of what happens when we allow ourselves to become too separated.
And I don’t know about you, but I don’t think I want to live in a world where everyone agrees or sees things the same as me. “If everyone is thinking alike, someone isn’t thinking.”
In highly divided environments like the one we’re in right now, the risk is that highly empathetic people or empaths will shut down. As we are highly attuned to others’ feelings, empaths can end up over filtering what we want to say or do.
Through more platforms opting to hold space for empathy, I hope that empaths will recognise their value and feel confident to put themselves out there more.
So what’s an empath? We’ll deep dive into this in the first two episodes, but essentially, it’s someone who is highly attuned to the feelings, needs, or energy of those around them. They can be:
- Highly sensitive – Absorb other people’s emotions
- Highly intuitive – They can gather and make sense information about people beyond just what they’re hearing someone say
- Introverted – They can easily give up or take on energy, meaning they need extra time to recharge
Empath traits can come about in many ways – through genetics, personality, upbringing, and childhood abuse and neglect.
And if you’re not aware, you can walk around all day feeling like there’s something wrong with you (you’re too sensitive, too quiet or antisocial).
The unique strengths of an empath include:
- deeply caring about others
- being curious
- deep listening
- strong intuition
- good sense making skills,
- and critical thinking
- while having lots of heart.
Without recognising and learning how to apply these strengths, it can be challenging for empaths to share their ideas and views; they feel caught in the middle, overwhelmed and confused by information, and often drained and isolated.
It can be hard to know where you fit and feel really lonely.
But if this is you, you are not alone. I’m excited to share knowledge, tools and stories that can help you navigate the world and contribute your unique strengths to it.
I’ve spent a long time being chronically agreeable, keeping the peace, valuing everyone’s perspectives to the point where I lost sight of my own.
It’s not a very authentic way to live.
But this is because I have spent a long time feeling these traits are weaknesses.
Especially when people seem so confident and can be forceful of their opinions about the world, it’s so easy to second guess yourself, do they know something I don’t?
But the goal shouldn’t be the most confident and convicted of their truth.
Holding space for the middle ground, for different perspectives, for changing your mind, for taking time to think, for curiosity, respectful disagreement, for compassion towards those we disagree with; these aren’t weaknesses.
These are things we desperately need more of right now in the world.
Introducing All Things Empath-y
So whether you’re overflowing with empathy and have no idea what to do with it all or you’d like to learn more about or develop your empathy skills – we’re diving into the mindsets, skills, and stories for more empathy around us and ourselves.
To do this, we’re focusing on few key themes: curiousity, relationships, community building, and empathy for self.
There’s a ton of incredible people in communities everywhere doing amazing things to bring people together in novel ways, and we’ll be sharing their ideas and advice with you.
The kinds of topics we’ll cover include:
- The psychology of empathy
- What’s an empath
- How to ask great questions
- Navigating tricky conversation
- Expressing your ideas
- Meaningful ways to look after yourself when the world is draining you
Each episode will include an ’empathy experiment,’ a mini experiment you can try to put the mindsets, skills, and tools into practice in your world.
And finally, while the stories of people will be part of all episodes, we also have a monthly episode called ‘Devil’s avocado’, a wordplay on the term ‘Devil’s advocate’ (which means to present an opposing point of view).
In Devil’s Avocado episodes, we’ll have various guests on the show and ask them a bunch of questions to unpack their views and get beyond them to the life experiences and values that shape them.
We are just starting, so I’m sure things will evolve based on your feedback. This show shouldn’t exist unless it’s meaningful and valuable to you.
But more than that, It’s about restoring our communities before they are too fractured to repair and being courageous enough to believe that we can make our communities better places than they have ever been.
It’s about holding onto hope for humanity no matter what.
Because while emotions such as anger are normal and sometimes necessary, it’s no longer okay for political and social leaders to tell people to get angry’ and encourage division in service of an agenda such as climate change or gun rights.
Maybe anger and division will propel the cause, but it comes at sacrificing individuals’ mental health and the stability of communities.
We shouldn’t let ourselves be the collateral damage.
We do have another option. Empathy can broaden our depth of perception and helps us make choices driven by compassion instead of driven by fear.
And that is a mighty power we hold that no one can take away from us.
All Things empathy is a new show, launching in February, focused on cultivating curiosity and collaboration in our communities.
No matter your political view, age, abilities, ethnicity, social status, gender, sexuality, or faith – you are welcome here.
I hope you join us in shaping this space.