You’re living in an echo chamber. And hearing your voice repeated back to you by friends, family, and social media is causing your empathy to die.
How does that feel? It’s repulsive. I’ve been there.
I used to have solid ideas about the world I lived in, what was wrong with it, who was wrong in it…and I surrounded by people who confirmed my biases.
Because that’s what we do.
It’s natural to cluster into clans, clubs, groups (even nationalities). It’s how we cooperate with people who are similar to us to achieve great things.
But that causes problems, too. Because once we band together, everyone who isn’t part of our tribe is “other” or “them.”
We dehumanize people outside of our groups — it makes it easier to defend against (or attack) people who aren’t as human or real as we are.
And so empathy dies.
And when empathy dies, hatred is born. Our natural tendency to seek love and acceptance from those most like us also causes us to hate other people.
Hate makes people do terrible things. Like bullying. I’m sure you remember high school. It wasn’t a pleasant time for me.
If you don’t remember high school as an unpleasant experience, you may have been one of the people making it unpleasant. Or you may have been the quiet kid who spent most of their time studying and staying out of trouble.
Of course, hate breeds hate, so I ended up hating a lot of people. I was labeled a “freak.” I dressed weird and had strange tastes in music. But the clothing and the music tastes were the same as the other freaks. How ironic is that?
I was part of a tribe that was near the bottom of the social ladder, but we banded together in our mutual aversion of everyone else. And everyone else disliked us. There was no empathy between high school cliques.
We didn’t understand how important empathy could be, or how destructive that lack of empathy could be.
A brief definition of empathy.
SkillsYouNeed defines empathy as “‘feeling with’ someone – being able to put yourself in their place as if you were them, and feeling those feelings.”
Being able to imagine what it feels like to be in someone else’s shoes. Empathy creates understanding, even if you don’t agree.
Empathy lets you imagine how your actions can impact others emotionally, and it helps you develop sympathy for others’ pain. A complete lack of empathy is a hallmark of psychopathy and narcissism.
(Note: This SkillsYouNeed article is a great starting point in learning more about the different types of empathy)
We start to hate “them” as each of us turns into more of a narcissist. Bullying turns into bigger problems — like racism, sexism, negative nationalism, war…
Things escalate and people kill each other, because nobody sees “them” as living, breathing, feeling, people.
Whether it’s a hate crime or a soldier doing what they’re told, there’s an incredible lack of feeling necessary to intentionally harm or kill another person.
Empathy can change the world.
In a connected culture where we hear our friends sharing our views and opinions — and Facebook and Google are so finely targeted with their content — it’s a burdensome cycle to break. But we need to.
We need to help each other. We need to connect with the people we lead and the people we follow.
Understanding and feeling with the people you interact with will do more than help you be a better leader or a better team member. It will make you a better person.
And most importantly for me – it will make you a better spouse and parent.
Join me in developing more empathy.
I want to see just how far I can push the creativity and empathy philosophies. Let’s start with one simple exercise – The Empathy Reflex exercise from John Medina’s Brain Rules for Baby:
When you first encounter somebody’s “hot” feelings, execute two simple steps:
1. Describe the emotional changes you think you see.
2. Make a guess as to where those emotional changes came from
It’s that simple. When your husband or wife seems furious as soon as you get home from work, figure out what’s going on. Are they just tired, not mad? Are they feeling overwhelmed? Describe what you notice.
“Sweetheart, you look really angry right now. Am I right, or is it something else?”
Then, once you have confirmation or clarification, figure out why. “Ah, you’re overwhelmed. The kids look like they made a mess today and I don’t know if you got enough rest last night.”
If you want to take it a step further…try imagining the feeling that they’re suffering through. Compare it to a time you felt that way, and then connect. “What can I do to help?”