One of the best traits anyone can have, I think, is empathy.
Empathy is a direct route to the heart of how someone is feeling. Unfortunately, if you aren’t in touch with your own feelings, it’s impossible to have true empathy. You can go through the *skill* of parroting back what someone said to you or even reading certain physical cues (i.e. tears must mean sadness, so you express words of empathy when you see the tears), but true empathy is really feeling the emotion like a power punch in your own gut before you can give it back so someone else.
One of the major lessons I teach my clients is empathy; consequently, it is also the hardest to teach. It’s like saying, “Yes, you said the right words, but it’s like you were dead inside when you said it.” And for a person who doesn’t know how to express empathy, that can be extremely confusing and even off-putting.
Didn’t they say the words?
Isn’t that all that’s needed?
No, not at all.
Empathy Can Be Learned
Empathy is this unique ability to step into someone else’s shoes and stay there a little bit, simmering in the juices of their emotion. You’re visiting their island, learning their culture, and feeling the music of their soul. *Feeling* the music. You can only feel the music when you’re quiet and still, and just taking in as opposed to judging.
Reading is one of the best ways I’ve found to cultivate understanding and empathy. It transports you to a magical, new world in which you are just along for the ride. A book of fiction is someone else’s story; you’re just hanging out in the passenger seat. This is just how it is for real life, too.
Empathy is the unique ability to hang out on someone else’s island, feeling their music. It is the ability to sit in the passenger seat of their car ride and let them lead you to the destination. You aren’t judging, controlling, or hitting the breaks, you’re just soaking in what is happening in *their* space, while you feel it all take place in your own body.
So! read some fiction. Even if they are just short, sweet stories – it’s still fiction. It’s a great way to transport to grow your empathy!