The Wisdom of Empathy
I’ve been noticing peoples’ faces a lot lately. Not their noses or eyes or other features, but the information that lies underneath it all. Walking through the grocery store, I see a frown or a serious expression and wonder, “Is she just trying to remember everything on her list? Or is she worried about how many groceries she can afford this month?”
Driving down the road, I see a scowl on the face of another driver. I think to myself, “What’s up his butt today?” then I consider that maybe the holidays are just a difficult time for some - whether they’re grieving a loss, or worrying about finances, or lonely.
I also notice wonderful things on faces. Deep admiration on the face of a husband watching his wife. Passion and enthusiasm in the expression of a business owner who is launching a new idea. Exuberance and joy in the twinkling eyes of someone who’s secretly done a good deed.
The dictionary definition of Empath is “a person with a paranormal ability to apprehend the mental or emotional state of another.” Maybe, but “apprehend” is a strong word! Let’s look at the definition of Empathy: “The ability to understand and share the feelings of another.”
Ah, yes. Much better. Reading faces the way I described above is an example of empathy. Learning to listen with your heart (like we’ve been discussing all month) is also empathy. And we ALL have this ability, just by being human. We get to decide whether to tune in or not.
Why would we tune in? Why bother reading peoples’ faces or tones of voice or body language? Essentially, the ability to feel/understand what’s really going on is a useful tool in getting us closer to a more loving world.
I have this wild theory that if we all worked to understand the thoughts/feelings/experiences of
- the extended family member whose politics we don’t agree with
- the moody lady at the DMV
- the teenager throwing a tantrum
- the grocery store worker who just came off of night shift
- the angry customer who sent a rude e-mail
- the person who cut you off in traffic
then we could stop some anger, nastiness, and negative energy right there. We could choose not to respond to misery with more misery.
If you’re rude right back to the DMV lady, how is she going to treat the person in line behind you? And how is that going to affect their day? What if you decided to pay her a compliment, or make an empathetic comment about the length of the line? Could that, in theory, soften her and maybe cause her to be more friendly to the people in line behind you?
The truth is, you’ll never know the ripple effect of your words and actions. However, you can be sure that they DO cause a ripple effect. This is why I would rather ripple off of empathy than harsh judgment.
Seeking to understand is always a good choice. It doesn’t require you to agree or accept abuse, yet it puts you in a more powerful, loving position. And I think all of us would benefit from more Love. ❤️