What is empathy?
Through the years, countless people are confused with the definition of the word, “Empathy.” There are so many definitions with many similarities and differences.
Here are some of those definitions:
- Empathy is the ability to feel with sympathy or feeling sorry for someone.
- Empathy is an ability to put ourselves in other people’s shoes, to feel what they feel.
- Empathy is the ability to know how other people feel in certain situations.
- Empathy is the ability to understand and share the feelings of other people.
These four are just a few of those definitions. These are fine and understandable. However, the real meaning of Empathy is much deeper than that. Let me explain further.
Empathy has so many dimensions. I will try to explore the subject as best as I can.
Empathy is more than just feeling what others are feeling. Since each person is a unique being with different sets of emotions, mindsets and reactions to different stimulus, the word empathy means could be different for other people. What we “think we feel” others are feeling is not entirely accurate all the time. We can imagine how they feel. However, in many cases, we can relate to how they feel, especially when we have the same experiences as others. In many cases, we are not 100 percent sure how others feel. Do you agree? At best we can imagine how they feel and so we try to check within ourselves if we feel the same way. We can never really know how exactly others would really feel in certain situations. We can feel, in close approximation but never exactly how others do. We can only feel a huge part of how they feel and we can also relate to those feelings. We feel sympathy, or concern or pity too.
Therefore the first point I would like to point out is that empathy is feeling what other people feel and at the same time feeling what we feel on that particular moment. We perceive other people’s feelings and we check our own. To say that empathy is the ability to feel what others feel is not entirely accurate. The next step is to ask a few questions: What are you going to do with that feeling? What can you do? How am I going to react? Should I care at all? If I care enough, can I make a difference?
There are three critical conditions of empathy:
- The ability to feel and understand others’ feelings
- The ability to recognize and evaluate our own feelings (after these two parts are triggered, empathy is activated and the next step is crucial because it is a logical step to take to reach true empathy.)
Our concern can be triggered when these two conditions are met. Then a question appears: What actions based on our reaction, our concern and compassion can we take? This is the most important part to remember. Will you take action?
- Without compassionate ACTION there is no real empathy. Please remember the words “compassionate action.” It means an action that is based on compassion, mercy, or concern.
Let’s have an example here.
You see a 10-year old little girl running alone on a dirt road. She is about a hundred meters ahead from you. Suddenly she falls down. She tumbles down the road and scrapes her knees and cries.
You look intently as she stands up, wipes her tears and walks on. All the while you were on your smartphone and you happened to have your gadget inadvertently recording the whole incident as part of your journey on this road. As the little girl fell down, you felt pain shoot through your heart. You felt what you imagined she felt and you feel sorry for the child. You know how it feels to fall down and have your knees bleeding before when you were also a young person. You have known that feeling before and you do not like that feeling.
Then you decided to post the recorded video immediately on social media because you think the video is worth sharing.
Did you have true empathy in this situation? NO, you did not have true empathy. Why?
You satisfied the first two conditions of empathy, “The ability to feel and understand others’ feelings” and “The ability to recognize and evaluate our own feelings” However, the action of posting the recorded video on social media is NOT a compassionate action.
Here are a few examples of what other people would do on that particular situation:
- Walk or run towards the child to comfort her.
- Walk or run towards the child to help her get home safely.
- Walk or run towards the child to carry her in your arms to show that you care.
- Call someone nearby to help you help the child.
- Walk or run towards the child and tell her to be more careful next time and help her go home safely.
Feeling sorry for others is not empathy. Imagining what you can do to help others is not empathy. Planning to help others is not empathy. You need positive action, a compassionate action, and a decision to help others to make this empathy real. Your help does not need to be big. It begins as small gestures, and then eventually it becomes bigger and more positive actions. Taking the time to help someone is a positive action. Taking a moment to cheer on someone for a job well done is a positive action. Sharing the good news to people you love is a positive action. When you do our best to encourage people to do good, to be better, to become the best they can be, then you are doing a compassionate action. By deciding to help others, you are also helping yourself. You become better as a person.
My final message here is that everybody can help make the world a better place. In your own way, you certainly can. With real EMPATHY, we can make a difference in our society. The more people are aware of the importance of empathy the better off everyone will be. Let us spread awareness. Let us spread good vibes. Let us show people that we care for them. We prove that claim by taking the action to help out in any way we can.
Can you imagine a society where real empathy is practiced? Wouldn’t that be a sight to behold? What an awesome thing what would be!
Real empathy is taking a compassionate action to help others however you can.
Please like and share. (This is also a form of compassionate action) Spread awareness and positivity. Be Part of the Solution. Be Inspired. Be Positive.