Who is empathy for?

We commonly believe that empathy is for the person on the receiving end. And that is, at least in part, true. It gives them the space to be with their feelings, thoughts, discomfort, free of the burden of judgement and scrutiny.

We need to be aware that empathy is not for the person on the giving end. Sure, they get an enriched view of the world by being empathetic. Yet, they should not fall in the trap of heroism and self-praising, and even less in the pit of entitlement (“I am doing this, so you owe me that”). At the bottom of that pit is resentment, and it is not possible to be empathetic when resenting someone.

Most of all, I believe, empathy is for the situation, the context, the environment. It gets things unstuck, it moves things forward, it works towards some form of progress. The alternative is banging our heads against the wall. It takes a lot of time, and pain, to get anywhere by just doing that.

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