“Empathy is about finding echoes of another person in yourself.” Author, Mohsin Hamid
In many ways, compassion and empathy might best be classified as other senses, like taste or touch—and while it’s not unique to human beings, it’s certainly a specialty of ours. Putting yourself in someone else’s place is a deeply powerful magic trick that we’re all born with the ability to do, and it’s an incredible force that’s helped us become the world-dominating species that we are: We help each other in large part because we can feel each other’s feelings. We also need to pay attention to embodying compassion for ourselves.
Like any other sense, compassion can cause pain or joy, and everything in between. Pain is there to move us to action: You move your hand away from the stove, or turn down the blaring stereo. When we see or hear of someone suffering, compassion or empathy is painful. It doesn’t matter whether it’s an unjust act, it doesn’t matter if it’s happening in front of us or not, it just feels like pain to us. And we need to do something about it.
If you were swimming in the ocean and came upon someone drowning, you’d save them. If your neighbor’s child was suddenly orphaned, you’d open your door to that child instantly. The pain would spur you immediately to action—and that kind of action is the most fulfilling kind available to a human being.
We are living on this earth in this digital era, the 21st century. Leaders are responsible for solving situations no matter how hard and complex. Their job is to create a culture to enable change by fostering inclusion in the face of inherent inequality. The sheer volume of uncertainty we’re now exposed to daily is a lot. The internet and the use of technology has intensified our connections to everyone, all over the world. This can cause a person to give up, to try to shut off their sense of compassion for ourselves and others. The ways people try to extinguish this vital sense are familiar: trying to categorize those who aren’t compassionate as less deserving, less human. But the magic trick backfires if you try to suppress it. None of these strategies work long-term, to keep a person from experiencing the pain of compassion or empathy—the only way through is to respond in a new way to ourselves and others. There’s no more uplifting experience than giving another person help that they really, truly need.
My thoughts about this is that the core ingredient is a feeling a sense of empathy of our teams and peers, those around us. Inclusion is paramount in our diverse world. The value of diversity is that everyone sees something different from with their unique set of eyes. They aren’t unique because of where they come from, they are unique because each of them bring different strengths to the world.
The tension of this era will continue to rise which makes it harder to connect as humans. We aren’t really listening to each other when 9 out of 10 conversations miss their mark,” (Stanford study).
Try to ask questions where you have no answer. See what happens.
Image Credit: Tindaro sculpture by Igor Mitoraj in La Defense, Paris
Photo by Samantha L Strauss