Thursday, February 5, 2009

The Power of and Need for Empathy

As I sit here listening over the wall to my co-worker of 12 years packing his boxes due to our most recent round of layoffs, I am contemplating the incredible value and power of sincere empathy.

When I was younger and more foolish, I would have rationalized the situation in order to avoid feeling intense negative emotions. I may have made a list of why the unfortunate were somewhat at fault for their own situation. Along with this I may have explained to myself how I was superior in some way, and therefore it wasn't my problem.

Per Merriam Webster, empathy is:
the action of understanding, being aware of, being sensitive to, and vicariously experiencing the feelings, thoughts, and experience of another of either the past or present without having the feelings, thoughts, and experience fully communicated in an objectively explicit manner

A coach that once told me that by doing this I was avoiding the full sadness and joy of being alive. (ie life is messy) Also, it prevented me from fully connecting with, understanding and helping others. Therefore, I have learned and now totally sanction that only through making a conscious effort to see and feel the world through the other person's eyes, skin and heart can a difference be made.

This applies to school board members making hard decisions, parents facing change, kids starting a new class, retirees on fixed incomes facing tax increases or my friend becoming unemployed..... I am much happier and complete now that I choose to feel...

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