Empathy: Medicine for a Wounded World
Here are eight ways to shift your thoughts to develop deeper empathy and help raise the vibration of our world.
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Have you ever felt so close to someone that his or her pain felt like your own? Perhaps you have this connection with a family member, such as a child or a spouse. Many of us are capable of this type of deep empathy with close loved ones, but why does empathy seem so hard to come by in the outside world? Why are people so rude to the waiter or their co-workers? Why do people start fights with total strangers on the internet, saying horrible things they would probably never say in person?
We seem to have forgotten who we are and why we’re here. We are caught up in the false perception of living in a world fueled by fear, competition and lack. Somehow, we have forgotten that we are deeply connected to everyone around us and that our actions and reactions make a huge difference in the world’s overall energy.
In our present culture, feelings of separation and hate seem to be rising to the top in order to get our attention for healing. The world is in desperate need of more empathy and compassion right now. If everyone was more empathetic, it could help bring us all to a higher level of emotional well-being, and perhaps in time, even end world hunger and war. Empathy alone could stop so many negative emotions and actions in their tracks: hostility, violence, jealousy, bitterness, ridicule, bullying and unforgiveness.
A mindset change is the first step in developing empathy. Here are eight ways to shift your thoughts to develop deeper empathy and help raise the vibration of our world:
- Be flexible in your thinking. Empathy requires flexibility of mind—an ability to think abstractly and not in terms of black and white. It is avoiding the temptation to group people together and label them as a single entity: all females, all males, all democrats, all republicans, all people of one race or one religion. After all, how can we have empathy for others if we don’t see them as individuals? Get to know one or two people this week who are completely different from you. Find out why they believe as they do. What makes them tick? Then accept them as they are.
- Remember: We are all connected. Philosopher Alan Watts once wisely said, “But I’ll tell you what hermits realize. If you go off into a far, far forest, and get very quiet, you’ll come to understand that you’re connected with everything.” In order to develop empathy, we must remember that we are energetically connected to everything and everyone. It’s like living in a web—when we send out positive or negative vibes toward someone else, that energy has no choice but to bounce right back to us. When we live under the false illusion of separation and disconnection from others, we are more likely to lash out or treat someone in an unkind way.
- Love yourself deeply. Have compassion for yourself. Forgive yourself. Don’t say mean things to yourself. You will naturally begin treating others with more compassion when you end the war against yourself.
- Give up your perception of lack. Many times we believe that there is only so much to go around—only so much money, so much love, so much beauty—we feel like we have to claim what’s ours. We get jealous if someone else is more attractive, makes or inherits more money, or has more friends. Our ego tells us that anytime someone else has something, it takes away from ourselves. This false and dangerous belief rips away our ability to empathize with people whom we think have had it too easy in life. For example, look at how celebrities are ridiculed in magazines and TV. Do we think that just because they are rich, beautiful or famous that they don’t have feelings? Of course not.
- Be open-minded. Empathy is recognizing that you don't have the exact same brain chemistry, IQ, childhood experiences, relationship experiences, failures and accomplishments, fears, viewpoint, likes and dislikes as someone else. Perhaps you worked and paid your way through college and landed yourself a good job. Does that mean everyone else is totally capable of doing the same? Perhaps you tried drugs once and had the self control to never try them again. Does that mean that everyone has that ability? Remain open to the fact that you simply don’t know everything about another person. Perhaps they are weak where you are strong, and they are strong where you are weak.
- Imagine yourself in a variety of scenarios. Imagine what life would be like if you had been born into another family, a different religion, a different gender or a different race. Consistently put yourself in others’ shoes. One fun way to do this is to read literary fiction! Researchers at The New School at New York City found that reading literary fiction helps people better understand what others are thinking and feeling.
- Practice love through your actions. As you go about your day, treat others how you would want someone to treat your own child or closest loved one.
- Work toward radical empathy. Having empathy for someone who has harmed you is the toughest to achieve: this is known as radical empathy. For example, you may have deep empathy for a girl you know whose mom is dying of cancer. But what happens if your boyfriend leaves you for that same girl? It's a whole different story when that person is perceived to "take something" from you or hurt you in some way. This type of empathy requires prayer and a shedding of the ego—but everyone is capable of it. You can begin in small doses—when someone is rude to you, respond with kindness. This is the only way the world is going to change. Martin Luther King, Jr. said it best: “Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate: only love can do that.”