Practicing Empathy: Understanding Others

 

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Sometimes it’s challenging to walk someone else’s path.

Have you ever found yourself feeling frustrated by someone’s choices or opinions? Unfortunately, try as we might, we are not always to change peoples’ choices, opinions or ways of thinking. Sometimes the best thing we can do is practice some Empathy.

It’s often at the times when I need to be most empathetic that I am least. I get tied up in my immediate response that drives me to prescribe; to say “This is how it should be!” and try to impress my ‘clearer’ thinking (it just seems to be in my mind, even if it is not) upon someone or a situation. Recently, I have been trying to focus on taking a step back and develop a more balanced approach in these situations.

I ask myself a simple question: “Why is this person acting in this way?”. For a while, I was unable to answer this question; getting caught up in the details of cause or the semantics of immediate motivation. The answer to this dawned on me recently, and it is far simpler than I thought it would be when it comes to understanding others: “This person is acting in this way because they want to be happy.” We act in a certain way because we desire well-being. We make decisions to maximize happiness, either for ourselves or for those around us (not necessarily exclusively for one or the other).

Once I realized this, I was able to cast away a lot of the frustration I felt about not being able to empathize with people, even people I don’t consider close friends. I began to realize that despite the obvious differences we all have, we are all driven by the same desires to live our lives in the way we deem ‘the best way’. In my mind, this realization provided a lot of relief as I cannot help but try understanding others as a curious person.

Once again with the anecdotes… I suppose the larger point I’m trying to make is to try this for yourself. Next time someone you know is acting in a way you don’t understand (or just straight up pissing you off), try to take a step back and think to yourself “This person is simply looking for happiness.”, maybe you can help them find it, maybe they are trying to find it themselves in the way that they think is best. Once we gain a better understanding of a person’s intent, when we practice empathy, we start to put our own minds at ease and we can start to open our hearts towards the needs of others.

Regardless of how we practice empathy, I’m a firm believer in the fact that it is empathy that connects us as human animals. It is the chain link that changes ignorance to understanding, hatred into love and darkness into light.

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