A word that is missing from our vocabulary today is a word that we need the most right now, it is empathy. The dictionary defines empathy as: “the ability to understand and share the feelings of another.” We are divided and drive the wedge deeper because we have forgotten to be empathetic. It is only when we have calm and sense will it lead to common sense. What we are seeing today is nothing short of the opposite. Whether it is COVID measures, climate issues, politics, etc, there are many things to complain about or the match and gas can are right near us to ignite a heated conversation.
We have become divided because we fail to be calm and see things from a sensible way. It bothers me that we have become such a hateful, hurtful and venomous society where we have dug our heels in and we are not going to have anyone tell us their thoughts and ideas. There is no conversation, trying to understand another person’s position or be OK with differing views. No, we hold on to our perspectives that become our truth but in reality, your perspectives are not the truth! They are your truth and we impose our truth on to other people. Perspectives and empathy often clash because our perspectives drive away the empathy when confronted with someone who holds an opposing view.
So what does empathy look like? It entails a balance between our emotional side and our logical side. When our logical side is imposed upon, our emotional side is activated as threatened and barriers are put up. It is also like a tango where both parties need to be willing to move together in the dialogue. It is not about one person being dominant and the other person subservient. Can we build empathy into our lives and society…absolutely! How? It means being put into an uncomfortable place where you might have to sit, listen and not judge someone. Here are some thoughts:
• Be calm and collected. This is a foundational piece because that is where the rest of the ideas can follow. Do a check of your emotional charge because when things get elevated and heated, we might not realize that we are speaking louder and raising our tone or being more abrupt. Taking a moment to realize where you are emotionally will allow you to bring things back to a position where you might have to disengage.
• Don’t interrupt if someone is sharing their position and don’t let your emotions rise as they are speaking. Let the person share their thoughts and ideas but during this time, don’t build counter arguments in your mind to respond back with while ignoring their conversation.
• Try to focus on similarities over differences. When we are in a conversation with someone that might have an opposing view, we only look at our differences and we want to pull the person over to our side. Maybe do an assessment and see where any similarities might lie that can blend in with the differences.
• Understand we are all not the same. What you carry with you may not be how others see and view the world. Instead of talking and imposing, try being curious and listen without interruption. This may sound like you are caving in or weak but this is a two way street which needs dialogue.
• Try to understand and appreciate the other person’s position and why they are like they are. The key is to understand and appreciate. You don’t have to agree with them but maybe appreciate where their sentiments are coming from.
• Ask questions – be open minded but asking questions is not to reinforce your own beliefs. Asking questions is about asking thoughtful and meaningful questions and not questioning their position.
• I choose how to react to the situation. Someone may be heated in the exchange and they might be looking for a rise out of you to justify their position but what I have found is that when you stand your ground but not say a word, you are controlling the situation. They are not going to pull you into a vortex of confrontation. After they have talked for a while in an assertive manner, I have just said, “Is it necessary for you to be so aggressive in the way you are speaking, I would like to just understand your position but I am not able to with you being this way.”
• Know when it is the right time to disengage. Sometimes, as things become heated, it might be important to step in with the words, “We might be going to a place neither of us would appreciate so maybe we need to step away from this”.
• Throw in a curve ball to disrupt the conversation. What this means is if something is getting heated, just throw in something random that might stop the flow of conversation. For example, “I am getting hungry…are you hungry? Let’s get something to eat.” Or “ I don’t know about you, but I am getting cold. Are you feeling cold too?”
• Avoid controversy because sometimes we know someone’s position on an issue and maybe it is not worth bringing up the topic. This is not about avoiding the elephant in the room but rather not going where the elephant might be. There are so many other things to share and talk about that one can maybe not go down a pathway that gets escalated.
• Blame game is not going to help at any time. Instead of blaming the other person for starting the situation or what they said, focus on the solution not the problem. How do we more forward as opposed to dwelling on what is wrong.
We have a lot of charged conversations and situations around us. What we really need right now is more empathy and a caring nature. Showing empathy is not a weakness but rather a strength because you are really trying hard to maintain a balance between logic and emotions. We don’t know what people are going through or how situations are impacting each other. We need to be more understanding of each other. We can agree to disagree and still maintain composure. Let’s not draw lines in the sand, if we have, let’s wait for the tide to come in and erase our differences.
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