Hello people of the Universe !
Such a deep question, right? Well, I struggled a bit to find a proper answer because “how” implies a solution and I am kind of bad at fixing things — I spent ten minutes looking at the kettle because it didn’t want to heat up water before noticing it was unplugged, and then I burnt myself with the now-hot cup of tea… What do you expect from me? Apart from my quirkiness, the real reason lays in a simple answer: empathy seems to be pretty present in my everyday life.
Just to be clear, empathy is the intuitive capacity to put yourself in somebody else’s place and perceive what he or she feels. Fyi, I am a sponge, I absorb every emotion very easily and tend to be very concerned by what is going on around me and, by extension, other people.
But how can you feel empathy for someone different than you? How can you wear somebody else’s shoes if you don’t have the same size feet? I don’t think it is only a question of understanding every detail or of being entirely similar to the other people, but more about trying, learning, asking questions, going outside of your comfort zone sometimes — all of that to make them feel supported and tell them you are not alone. I found three ways to incorporate empathy to your behavior. I think they may help if you are not naturally moved by what happened to somebody or if you can’t look beyond the differences that separate the two of you, but also if you tend to hesitate before acting because you are afraid of their reactions.
❀ LOOK AT YOUR OWN STORY
Being different doesn’t mean you can’t relate. You have your own background, you went through tough and happy moments, you know what it is to be down and get up otherwise you won’t be where you are today. Being different doesn’t mean you never felt the same emotions. You never lost a parent, but you know what is sadness and absence. You never got fired, but you know what is shame or disappointement. You experienced those feelings, maybe not the way the other person did, but you know how you succeeded to move on and by sharing your story, you provide empathy.
Let’s take two minutes to clarify the word different too. There are many ways to be different. In medicine, it can be normal vs. pathological, but in everyday life it is not as simple, not as dual. You are different because of — thanks to (!) — your age, your gender, your hair color, your outfit, your nationality, your accent, your music tastes, your sexuality, your religion, your food preferences… Even in a same group you can be different — do you prefer poetry or stories? Do you read often? Can you read everywhere? Shakespears is not better than Molière! notice the rhyme, yo. All of that makes you different. The difference doesn’t need to be huge, but it exists. And sometimes, it is not lived correctly.
We all felt rejected because our difference at least once in life. Perhaps you had few friends at school because it is not trendy to love learning. Perhaps you stopped practicing sport because you felt like you were not good enough, muscled enough, or because people made you feel like you were not pretty enough to be on stage with them, or faster enough to play in their team. Perhaps you are not invited to parties because you don’t drink alcohol or because you are not the funny friend. Perhaps you feel like you are not a good parent because you don’t do like other people, like a majority of people. So yes, we all know what it feels to be rejected by a group and we were hurt, some of us certainly more than others, but we all went through it. Now, it is time to use it, to transform your pain in a helpful message. It is time to convert it into empathy. What makes you different is what brings all of us closer.
❀ EQUALITY IS THE KEY
To me, equality is one of the most important value in the world. Unfortunately, it hasn’t become a reality yet. Why am I speaking about equality? Because being different is not about ordering qualities and faults. If you put yourself above or below others, you lose the balance of a healthy relationship: walking on a path, side by side. If you put yourself above, you weigh on someone else’s shoulders. If you are below, you suffer so much that you stop sharing your own feelings. Empathy comes from an equal and two-way relationship.
What I want to highlight is how you can create that kind of communication. To me, it starts with respect. Respect of others, respect of yourself. We all know the ethic of reciprocity: one should treat others as one would like others to treat oneself. You will meet people who are not ready to participate, you will meet people who will exploit your kindness, and you will meet people who will respect you back. Empathy is not something you give at every turn, it is shared. You can’t give empathy to someone who refuses it, it would be like trying to pour water in a closed bottle. But it doesn’t mean you can’t try to open it, slowly, if you think it could help. You have to protect yourself against profiteers, not against difference. Difference is not your pet peeve. Ignorance, disrespect, violence are. And guess what? You can cure them with empathy. Such a virtuous circle.
❀ ASSUME YOUR CHOICE
If empathy is in you, why can’t you find it? Let me refer to Maya Angelou’s quote: I think we all have empathy. We may not have enough courage to display it.
We often say that courage is natural, there are courageous and non courageous people. I don’t think so. I think courage is a choice — not an easy one –, so is empathy. Logic would be to provide empathy to anyone, without distinction. But we are subjective people, we can’t be rational on every topic and sometimes, we just don’t want to get involved in another mess — we already have ours at home, right? It may be why you can’t find empathy, you just refuse to find it. Being empathic leads to taking care of something sometimes bigger than you. You will have to comfort someone and it takes time. You will have to inspire a bit of joy and get rid of negativity when you go back to your own life. It is not simple, but you have to make a choice.
So here is something I want to clarify: don’t justify your non action according to difference. It is fine not to always feel empathy. Do you always love/get along with someone? No, and you should not be blame for it. Empathy is a feeling like others but it doesn’t mean you can base your argument on difference from a person to another. As I wrote above, different is not unequal, so why would you help someone like you and not someone who is not? There is no other answer than it is your decision.
I must add something… Honey [or insert your lovely name here], where is humanity going without your support? If you decide to stop helping others, how will you get help? What makes you different from an animal if consciously you only think of your own survival? If you forget what it means to share, to care, to defend others? Do you really want to confirm that homo homini lupus est? Do you really want to be so rational that you won’t make the difference between being kind and being weak? Will you let fear ingratiate every part of your body? If you let it, you will lose the only thing that put people together: empathy.
I am sure there are many things I forgot, and I will certainly find other words to put on this subject later, but for now this is what is on my mind. Don’t forget to let me know how you express empathy towards someone else and if you find the experience complicated or not. I may have a question for you to pursue the debate: would YOU accept to receive empathy from someone different than you?