Empathy is a term that defines a person's ability to identify or understand the life challenges faced by another that promotes compassion and action. Most research points to two specific types of empathy that are exhibited by the general population. The first is termed "Affective empathy" which is the ability to mirror another person's emotions by generating feelings in response to the emotions they show. (ex. another person crying) The next type of empathy is "Cognitive empathy" which refers to the mental ability to identify or understand someones perspective.
It seems crazy that we need to discuss why empathy is important in our world, but the lack of it has created phenomenal social problems that seem to be causing society to regress. The main reason this may be occurring is because people either don't understand how to empathize with others or may not understand the value that empathy can generate when it is put into action. Just as it was discussed above, there are two specific types of empathy that can be utilized to affect our interactions with others. The first was an emotional or instinctive response, and the other was a cognitive approach by analyzing a situation before responding. Therefore, people can learn to become more empathetic just like learning to solve problems or think analytically. Here are 7 ways to start increasing our empathy.
7 Ways to Put Empathy Into Action:
Awareness: The first action is to begin observing others behaviors and emotional responses to situations. This can be accomplished by understanding the importance of reading body language, and improving your non-verbal communication skills.
Imagine: Have you ever tried to imagine what it would be like to be in another person's predicament, and how it may make them feel to deal with that situation? Start trying to force yourself to see another individuals perspective or point of view that differs from yours, and why their belief may elicit specific emotions.
Don't Assume: Isn't it an easy thing to jump to conclusions? For most of us it happens without even realizing what we're thinking. It may be seeing someone who appears very different than us, and we automatically conjure up thoughts in our head concerning what that person may be like. Putting empathy into action takes curbing our natural tendency to look for differences, and replace it with a cognitive effort for finding commonality with those we meet.
Meditation: This word can mean so many different things to different people. The point is to take time every day to be introspective, and evaluate thoughts and actions to ensure you're acting with empathy to others. This time alone can refresh and renew you as you go through your busy day, and help you remain focused on putting empathy into action.
Read: Specifically reading fiction allows the mind to connect with emotions and feelings, and has been shown to be effective in increasing empathetic abilities. As you read it allows you to connect with the characters in the book, and identify with the storyline. That sounds very similar to putting empathy into action.
Enjoy Interaction with Others: This can be the act of pursuing a hobby or even playing competitive sports with others. Through the interaction we are forced to observe the other person's actions, attitudes, and responses which help to improve the ability to put empathy into action.
Philanthropy: No, not giving away a million dollars to strangers on the street. It is the act of putting yourself in a situation to give to others, and identify with their challenges. It also provides the opportunity to experience that "affective empathy" more regularly when you create possibilities to put empathy into action.
When these actions are practiced on a regular basis we can experience and see the benefits that occur by putting empathy into action.
- Generosity abounds
- Prejudice is reduced
- Relationships and intimacy improve
- Aggression and violence decrease with more understanding
- Equality between various groups of people increases
- People become healthier by reducing stress and depression
- Personal productivity increases with morale and better clarity
- People are led to risk leaving their comfort zone, and do extraordinary things for others (ex - people hiding Jewish families from the Nazis in WW2 without regard for their own safety - Courage)
Take care, and I wish you all the best.