Empathy is simply listening, holding space, withholding judgment, emotionally connecting, and communicating that incredibly healing message of you’re not alone. – Brené Brown
Sharing Someone’s Perspective
In this busy, often complex world we live in, taking the time to adopt another’s perspective by sharing their experiences and feelings, may be seen as disturbing, or an unnecessary burden. However, take a second to remember people who made a difference in your life, and I’m sure you will recall them as individuals who took the time to listen to you, sharing your experiences and emotions, relating to you on a deep level and making an impact that has lasted throughout your life.
Developing Empathy During a Crisis
Empathy can be taught as a prosocial skill, but it is more authentic when it comes from your inner being. Neuroscience has more recently discovered a primitive structure in our brains called, “mirror neurons.” There are many primate studies that show how these neurons are activated among two monkeys mimicking hand or facial gestures. These neurons seem to provide a biological lens for the practice of empathy. The brain is designed to mimic behaviors and emotions, that we once expressed and experienced ourselves. Taking this to a higher level, in a more human fashion, would involve intention. The desire to connect with the other, to take on their understanding of the topic or issue.
How Empathy Benefits Humanity
Spiritually, the practice of empathy heightens the awareness of our unity, that we are all connected on a very basic level. For example, to feel the grief of another and what thoughts and memories may be part of the loss, allows us to tap into our awareness of a time when we grieved. To sit with someone who had been a victim of a hate crime is a tough situation. You don’t need to have gone through the situation yourself, but imagine times in your life when you were judged, ridiculed, or discriminated against, then through intention – be with the other, because their experience of hurt, is truly, yours as well. When you experience this, then you have experienced empathy, or what Buddhism calls Right Focus, samadhi, which is a Pali word meaning, “bringing together.”
Be attentive today for someone, or a situation that may be an opportunity to practice empathy. Find yourself more attuned to the other, this is not about you…this IS you!
William J. Heran, Ph.D., LCSW, SAP CEO/Co-Founder Providence Treatment Philadelphia, PA