We hear a lot about the need for empathy these days, especially when the global pandemic is still going on after 18 months. So why do we need empathy? Why is it important? It is important because it meets two of our deepest needs: the need to be understood and a need to have our feelings validated.
So, how do we become empathetic?
- Be aware of what’s happening in the lives of the people we interact with.
- Develop a genuine concern for them.
To do that, we need to start by slowing down so that we can notice what is happening around us. Our culture teaches us to move fast, so we end up skimming relationally. We are skimming when we hit most of the high points and miss all kinds of details in the lives of people we care about most. When was the last time we allowed someone to share their heart with us? We can’t sympathize if we aren’t listening.
Once we have slowed down long enough to really listen, start asking thoughtful and specific questions. Most people hold their emotions pretty close, and they don’t automatically share how they are doing. Use gentleness to draw them out. “I’m fine” is the standard answer, but that doesn’t really tell us how they feel. Asking “How was today?” is better. Asking “How was your conversation with John?” is even better.
I do want to point out one thing: if your emotional tank gets low, you’ll be ruled by your own agenda. Selfishness pushes empathy to the background. So, sympathize with each other, love one another, be tender-hearted and keep a humble attitude.