“Empathy is the most mysterious transaction that the human soul can have, and it’s accessible to all of us, but we have to give ourselves the opportunity to identify, to plunge ourselves in a story where we see the world from the bottom up or through another’s eyes or heart.”- Sue Monk Kidd
Empathy is defined as the ability to understand and share the feelings of another. Seems simple enough… except that it isn’t. We all have our own struggles and our own victories, our own challenges, and our own comforts. We can never truly know what it is like to be someone else, nor can they know what it is like to be us.
I believe what we need to do is to understand that no-one truly can understand us because they aren’t us. And because of their lack of understanding, we need to be better about letting things go.
How many times have you found yourself getting upset about something little? A person cuts you off in traffic, a lane opens up in the grocery store and the people behind you in line jump over to it instead of allowing you to go in front, a guy walks in a door right in front of you and just lets it close without holding it for you…etc., etc., etc.
If we wanted to look hard enough there are countless opportunities for us to feel slighted, to feel disrespected. And if I am being completely honest, I’ve been known to get bent out of shape from these very things on more than one occasion. “Don’t they know what I am going through? I am a person too. They should empathize with me more.”
Now…does that make any sense at all? We have no control over the lives of others. We can’t enforce empathy on their accord. We can’t make them understand us very easily. What we can do is flip the switch.
We have no idea what their life is like today. We have no idea what is on their mind. We can assume all sorts of things, but I think we know what they say about assuming…If we truly want to be the best version of ourselves we can start by having compassion towards others on a grander scale (which, ironically begins with small steps and big thoughts).
What if we stopped for a second when we got that first sign of anger toward another and just contemplated the possibilities of their day? They could have just found out their company is downsizing, their mom could be very ill, they could be late to get to their child’s doctor’s appointment, they could have a family emergency, the possibilities are endless (and yes they could just be total jerks, but the percentages of those are much smaller than the non-jerks. And even if they were, we aren’t going to change them by being angry or slighted or annoyed). We make snap decisions based upon initial swells of emotion when in truth we are completely ignorant of the motives of their actions.
By the way, the feelings we get in these situations are completely natural, I am not saying we are bad people for having them. I am saying that, just like any other situation, there is a possibility for growth and learning. If we choose to step back for a minute, practice empathy (and not foolishly think we can enforce it on others), we can surely improve the circumstance, lower our blood pressure, improve our outlook and set the stage for a greater day/week/month/life.