My last post explored the ways that empathy is deeply ingrained in human nature, but also some of the psychological ways that humans are bad at harnessing empathy to have a positive impact on ourselves and those around us. Today I wanted to give some practical tips on how to embrace empathy in your everyday life in order to improve your personal happiness and sense of purpose, and make life better for those around you.
1. Calm down.
It’s hard to be kind and caring toward others when you’re all worked up in a rage. Rage is blinding, and could easily drive you to actions that are both unkind and unwise. If you really want to be able to understand and relate to other people, the first step is to take a step back. Take some time and do something that relaxes you, and approach the situation again when you’re not as worked up. If you’re really struggling to manage your anger, I found these tips from Psychology Today to be very helpful.
2. Think logically.
People don’t usually think of empathy and caring as logical, but to dismiss these feelings is a very irrational move. Helping other people helps us feel better about ourselves, makes others treat us with more kindness in return, and even makes a workplace more productive. When you think rationally about the benefits of being kind, it’s hard to argue against. Additionally, thinking things through from a scientific perspective can prevent you from being blinded by negative emotions such as anger and rage, and make you more capable of finding genuine solutions that are beneficial to all parties involved.
3. Try to imagine things from different perspectives.
This is the core of what empathy is all about. When you imagine a situation from another point of view, you are enabling yourself to better connect with another person in a meaningful way. This does not mean you have to agree with the other person, but you do have to understand where they’re coming from in order to get through a relationship roadblock. Here are some examples of ways that empathy can guide you:
- Apology & reconciliation. We all say hurtful things to people sometimes, but often once you’ve calmed down and viewed things from another person’s perspective, you may realize that you had said or done something insensitive. This can lead you to a sincere apology and help you rebuild a relationship with someone you’ve hurt.
- Forgiveness. At the same time, being able to understand where someone was coming from when they said something hurtful can help you overcome negative feelings and grudges.
- Kindness. When you understand where another person is coming from, it makes you kinder toward them. For example, if you encounter homeless person, you might not find it easy to relate to them, but if you took a moment to imagine what it would be like to lose your home, it might encourage you to treat them with more kindness.
- Personal growth. Being able to better relate to other people can help you communicate better, resolve conflict, and even help you find a sense of purpose.
4. Don’t be afraid.
Putting yourself in another person’s shoes means making yourself vulnerable to feeling another person’s pain. It is a frightening experience that requires a lot of bravery. Don’t let anyone tell you that showing kindness or compassion makes you “soft” or weak. Taking on another person’s emotions requires a great deal of personal strength – flex those kindness muscles!
5. Expand your circle.
It’s easier to relate to people who you have a lot in common with, but people who are different are easier to ignore or dehumanize. One of the best ways to combat the ill effects of racism, sexism, and other forms of discrimination is to get to know people who are different from you and stimulate empathy across all kinds of social barriers.
Thanks so much for reading! Just a reminder – if you have a personal story about a time when you embraced empathy please feel free to share it in the comments. Also, if you have any comments or suggestions about the blog, feel free to reach out. I would love to hear from you!