I think empathy is a beautiful word and understanding its meaning has enhanced my life.
Yesterday was another long day, my workday starts from 6.00 a.m., my workload increases daily and I am not winning. The weather is diabolical, cold and windy with no sign of summer arriving, at the moment there are certainly no rewards looming on the horizon.
The day proceeded in the same way that most days have done for the past three months since I started earning my living from home and decided to take my mass of knowledge online to the waiting world.
Later in the day around 5.30 p.m. someone knocked on the door. My husband answered and said a few words to someone then closed the door. Realizing the speed of the exchange I ventured into the hallway to enquire after the visitor.
Apparently the ‘visitor’ was a hawker, a guy selling small products from a bag, my husband had turned him away.
Today I suppose this is an everyday occurrence, however it had an emotional effect on me. I asked my husband why he had not enquired what the man was selling? He did not really have an answer. In his defense he had worked long hours too.
After some deliberation my husband left the house and looked for the man to give him some money, but could not find him.
The incident haunted me, I felt upset and tearful thinking about this person and imagining what life was like for him, wandering from door to door trying to find money to eat.
The feeling intensified when I looked around at my home, when I went to prepare our evening meal, I thought about our visitor and I felt cruel and selfish.
Alright, you’re reading this and thinking “this is life, this is how it is today”, however for me the incident went far deeper.
I joined the counseling profession 12 years ago and one of the skills taught is how to develop empathy.
What is empathy? I can tell you what it is not, it is not sympathy – the two are worlds apart.
Empathy is ‘stepping into the other persons shoes‘. This is the description given by the great Carl Rogers who developed Person Centred Counseling. I think there is no better description or ‘fit’ for the word.
Becoming enthralled by this part of my training, I embraced every word, every nuance, I let it become a major part of who I was and to this day believe understanding and feeling empathy improved my work beyond recognition.
When you develop real deep empathy and it becomes part of who you are, your life changes forever. Sometimes this can make life more painful by experiencing empathic thoughts, as in the case of our ‘visitor’. I actually felt physical churning and deep emotion for him in the pit of my stomach – for a few moments I walked in his shoes.
Now that I have empathy, I do believe I could not live without this deep spiritual part of me, it enhances who I am, it does not separate me from the rest of the human race, it binds me to others in a way I did not believe was possible.
To walk in another man’s shoes, you will feel no greater joy nor deeper sorrow, however it does mean that you are alive, you have emotion, you care about others.
Empathy – ‘the intellectual identification with or vicarious experiencing of the feelings, thoughts, or attitudes of another.’ http://dictionary.reference.com/browse/empathy?s=t
I walk daily in other people’s shoes, I walk daily in other people’s thoughts, my life is greatly enhanced as a result.