Today, I went to copy and paste an article I wrote in May of 2015 about empathy because I was feeling tired and not very inspired to write. I made a commitment to myself at the beginning of July to write a newsletter at least twice a month. Was I cheating? Maybe? Maybe, yes. The article I went to copy from my slight LinkedIn anthology was titled, Try Empathy. I remember writing this article because I was struggling through a relationship with another colleague who would bully me daily with their words and actions — I was their favorite and their most despised at the same time which was very confusing for me. I wanted to be more clear about what empathy meant to me so maybe I could find peace with it all by seeing them more clearly. Eventually, that relationship ended and it was definitely for the best.
So, yeah, Try Empathy was accidentally deleted. My happy fingers selected the article and then did a copy and paste of a google link from earlier in the day. LinkedIn autosaved this — — I guess this article is also a cautionary tale for the LinkedIn user? Maybe you can empathize? Which is different than sympathize. Sure, I guess you could feel sorry for me, but dang it would sure feel good if you could step into my shoes and imagine what that might have felt like instead. Did you see what I did here? Ha! Yes, empathy is very different from sympathy and I gotta say, I do think people mix these up sometimes. Aside from the confusion between sympathy and empathy, here are a few reflections on the word empathy. I even tossed in a fun exercise to help find our commonalities, which yes, can help develop those empathetic muscles:
Notice what you notice: pause and be present. Aim to see if you are able to step into someone else's shoes to better understand their feelings and perspective.
Listen. Really listen. Be present. Breathe. Reflect back on what you heard and listen more.
Be curious. Walt Whitman has been quoted to say, “Be curious, not judgmental.” I love the simplicity and the power of this quote and I think I heard it on a recent episode of Ted Lasso? Great show, by the way. 😉
Find commonalities: I have an exercise that I like to do for an icebreaker called, Three Things in Three Minutes. With partners, you are to find 3 commonalities that are not obvious, in 3 minutes. Inevitably, there are always commonalities and when we come back to the large group to share our discoveries, trust starts to grow and so do the smiles. Magic!
Own your sh*t. Share what you feel, but own your feelings. Someone posted something the other day using a cup of coffee as an analogy: If someone bumps into you and your coffee spills, their action did not spill your cup of coffee. You did. You chose to put coffee in the cup in the first place. So own it.
Show gratitude. If someone opens up to you, thank them.
Inspire action and model empathy. How can empathy be a tool for bringing about cultural and social change? How can we model what empathy looks like for future generations? These are definitely important questions I feel need our attention and I am still in process with them, for sure.
Tell your story. We all have a story to tell and by sharing yours, you can help change the world. Yes, really.
I guess I’m happy that I accidentally deleted the article from 2015 because it gave me the opportunity to reflect on what empathy means for me today. From where I sit, the world is begging us to start paying attention by stepping into the shoes of another more often. So, let’s go do it!