The Truth About Empathy In This World Right Now

Understanding Empathy

Empathy is the ability to understand and share the feelings of another. It’s more than just feeling compassion for others; it involves imagining what it’s like to be in another person’s shoes, truly connecting with and experiencing their emotions.

When someone shows you empathy, it just feels different. It’s not someone trying to fix your problem or feeling sorry for you. It’s someone just being with you, in the muck, in the stickiness…and it’s not easy.

In our world of high-achieving standards, we’re made to feel like if we’re not adding value, then we aren’t useful. How often have you heard your boss say, “Come to me with solutions, not problems.” It’s no wonder we respond similarly to friends, family and coworkers. 

Dr. Brené Brown beautifully describes the essence of empathy in this animated RSA Short. She illustrates how genuine empathic connections form only when we’re brave enough to engage with our fragilities.

Short RSA Film with Dr. Brené Brown on Empathy

Simon Sinek, another proponent of genuine connections, shares insights on the profound impact of true friendship.

By just being there for someone, you’re providing even more value than you’ll ever realize. 

Barriers to Empathy

It’s clear why empathy is important, but there are also a lot barriers to why we lack empathy.

  1. Societal and Cultural Pressures: deep-rooted beliefs about roles, status and other norms can cause harm in genuine connections. For instance, when I quite my high-paying corporate job to build my business, many people couldn’t understand why. Dave (my partner) also got a lot of pushback from friends asking him “Why he allowed me to make that decision.”
  2. Inherent Biases: Issues with gender diversity, neurodiversity, racism and others, although often unconscious impacts our ability to truly understand the issues. If we aren’t someone that has experienced it, we’ll never fully understand the impact. I worked with a diversity coach last year that helped me understand my own privilege of being a white woman, living in Canada. It’s not something to be ashamed of, but instead learn and be open to the experiences of others and how different they might be from mine.
  3. Vulnerability concerns: it’s hard to truly show up unapologetically, share your feelings or your struggles. With fear of being judged or not taken seriously. Many of our parents or grandparents views vulnerability as a weakness. As we’ve learned over the year through the work of Dr. Brené Brown and others, vulnerability brings us closer together even when it’s gut-wrenchingly hard.
  4. Chronic stress and burnout: when you’re in a state of chronic stress and burnout, our capacity to show empathy goes way down. There’s just no space for it. We are stuck in the sympathetic nervous system in fight or flight. This is why breaking that cycle and learning how to tap into the parasympathetic system is so important. 

Cultivating Empathy in Everyday Life

In Personal Relationships:

Empathy in personal relationships

  • Ask Before Advising: Instead of rushing in trying to save the day, when someone shares something with you, ask “Do you want advice or just need me to listen?”
  • Active Listening: Put away the phone and really listen to the person in front of you. Stop trying to think about what you’re going to say next. Really make them feel seen and heard by giving the the gift of your full attention.
  • Embrace Silence: Although it can be awkward to be in silence, there’s something really beautiful about being together and saying nothing. Just being together.

In the Workplace:

Empathy in the workplace

  • Seek Understanding: Instead of rushing to judgments on missed deadlines or meetings, approach colleagues with genuine empathy and curiosity. Give them the benefit of the doubt before assuming what happened. 
  • Genuine Check-ins: A random hey or check-in can really go along way to know the someone genuinely cares about you.
  • Promote Team Work: Knowing that you have your team to support you, especially in moments of chaos or stress is underestimated. Work together to support and rely on each other.

Watch another clip from Simon Sinek.

Closing Thoughts

Empathy isn’t just a tool for understanding others – it’s a powerful force for self-acceptance, self-love and living in integrity. By integrating empathy into our daily interactions, we can support each other in deeper ways, feel more understood and like we’re apart of something bigger – combating the epidemic of chronic stress, burnout and loneliness.

Learn more about the chronic stress cycle and how to combat loneliness here with the right support systems

Where in your life and work can you have more empathy in yourself or others? Offer empathy generously and we journey towards a more understanding world and remember the power of genuine connections together. 

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