To most people, empathy does not come natural. It certainly does not come natural to me. For many years, I have had the tendency to put myself at the centre of the World. Everything that happened was, to some extent, because of me.
People were certainly acting in a certain way because they wanted to signal something to me. My friend had stopped calling because for sure they did not want to hang out with me any more. My boss was being cranky because she did not like my job and was about to fire me. My girlfriend was being cold because clearly she was not interested in me anymore. And so on.
This slowly built up a worldview according to which it was very difficult for me to be empathic. On one side, the others were mostly being negative. On the other, they were being negative because of me, and so I was also unworthy of their interest, friendship, trust, love.
Raise you hand if this situation sounds familiar.
I had to train myself in empathy. Here is what Wikipedia says about empathy.
Empathy is the capacity to understand or feel what another person is experiencing from within their frame of reference, that is, the capacity to place oneself in another’s position.
Sounds intimidating just by reading it.
The first step I took was to start asking people about their motives. What I found floored me. In 99.9% of the cases, I was not the reason why they were acting in a certain way. I found, actually, that most people had feelings that I was very familiar with, or were living through situations that I had also lived through in the past.
After I started approaching meditation, and to some extent a more Buddhist take on life, one theme resonated with me. We are all going through the same distress. Even though our lives are different, even if some have more and some have less, even if some are alone and some are not, even if some live in some place and some in another. We are all challenged by the attempt to make sense of a World that is senseless.
When you understand that what you feel, what you think, what you live is an experience you have in common with other human beings, that is the moment empathy unlocks.
I am still learning, and it is easy to fall back to certain patterns, easier than one would care to admit. Real empathy is one of the most needed characteristics in today’s World, and what is incredible about it, is that it expands in a sense of belonging like no other I ever experienced before.
Good luck on your path.