Psychology Today defines empathy as:

“…the experience of understanding another person’s condition from their perspective. You place yourself in their shoes and feel what they are feeling. Empathy is known to increase prosocial (helping) behaviors. “

Simply stated, empathy is:

  • Understanding another’s perspective – the path they are walking on and what they are feeling along the way
  • Beneficial to we what we do – helping others more often

Empathy Passing By

A better way to consider empathy is to watch this 4:24 minute video produced by the Cleveland Clinic:

The quote at the start is just the beginning of empathy.

“Could a greater miracle take place than for us to look through each other’s eyes for an instant.” – Henry David Thoreau

When I watched this video, two thoughts went through my mind immediately. First, if only we could make the connection, have the conversation, we would enhance our understanding. Second, no one’s life is perfect.

As you consider my two thoughts, you may think they are disconnected. You might be right but give me a chance.

Making the Connection

Empathy Requires Human ConnectionEach day, count the times you do not make a connection with the person next to you. Just think of the places you stand:

  • In the coffee shop
  • In the elevator
  • In the lunch line
  • At the grocery checkout

It isn’t getting into the details of a person’s life in these moments, but it is about extending a kind remark or greeting. Brief acknowledgements and exchanges create moments of relief and flashes of kindness. Small connections can lead to greater conversations at later times.

David Brooks wrote a few years ago about how empathy doesn’t necessarily lead to action. We may notice, but we don’t change our behavior. This may be true, but we need to make a connection first. I believe we are making fewer connections with the people directly around us. This is the behavior we need to change first in order to gain added empathetic actions.

Maybe with all the social media connections we are missing the real connections as real people pass us by almost unnoticed. In recent articles, there is a conversation about Facebook fatigue, too. In a recent CNET article,

“The Pew study found that 61 percent of the Facebook users who responded have taken extended, weeks-long breaks from the site.”

Are we becoming too busy, too fatigued, to see through the eyes of the person next to us?

Nothing’s Perfect

Now to the seemingly disconnected thought: Nothing is perfect. In Facebook, all seems so wonderful – vacations, smiling faces, joys, brags, and many other just so perfect things. Maybe this is where the fatigue is coming in. We really know that no one’s life is a Disney story book. Challenges arise and not all of them are resolved with a happy ending.

Maybe we have become too concerned about social media metrics that we begin to tune out of real interactions. It has become a numbers game rather than a quality one. And, quality interaction doesn’t mean just the things going well; it covers our challenges as well.

We need to get real. We need to understand. We need to feel.

Empathy Connected

Our call to action is two-fold:

First, Henry David Thoreau’s challenge was to look “look through each other’s eyes.” What this means is we need to really feel what is going on inside. Empathy is not faceless; it is not a glance. Empathy is about making a human connection.

Our call to action is simply to make a human connection as often as we can wherever we can.

Second, life is really messy at times. Maybe the eyes we are looking through need to drop their guard more often, opening up and letting others in. At times, we need help. We need understanding. We need empathy.

Our call to action is simply to let our guards down and let others see life in full – joys, messiness, tears, laughs. Life contains all, and empathy can only be given and received when we understand.

Changing Our Connection Behavior

Here’s the metric for the weeks ahead. Rather than talking about Klout or Kred or number of hits on timelines or chats, let’s publish the number of how many times we made a connection to the person next to us. Let’s publish the numbers of how many times we saw through someone’s eyes and really understood what was on their minds and in their hearts. Let’s record these real human connections in our mind, our soul… opening our ears and hearts to really understand.

This is life in real. This is empathy in practice.

How do you practice empathy? How open are you to conveying your life’s successes and challenges?