Empathy is the “ability to understand how someone else is feeling or to understand the situation they are in. It is the ability to “put yourself in someone else’s shoes” and to understand the way a situation might make them feel” according to Talking Tree Books. I am using the children’s definition of empathy because for this adult the simplicity and directness of children speak often gives me great clarity.
Where I reside in Rochester, NY we are at 72 days since March 13, 2020 when the normalcy in which we live dramatically changed. The coronavirus and the crisis that ensued took a grip on everybody. People became sick, people died, jobs ended, schooling became remote, healthcare became overwhelmed, foodbanks struggled to keep up with the demands of feeding more people, mental health concerns grew, people were afraid, angry, and what was happening next was uncertain. To keep people safe, unless you were an essential worker, you stayed home away from family and friends who did not reside with you. In 72 short, yet very long days, lives have been turned upside down.
As the COVID19 crisis continues I see the toll this is taking on people’s emotions and mental health. Tempers are flaring, and people are understandably on edge. When I go into the grocery store I see the eyes of people who looked panicked behind the face masks many are wearing while buying food. There are stories of individuals who responded with extreme measures when asked to wear a face mask or individuals wearing a face mask shaming those non face mask wearers. During conversations with people in my life I hear the stress, emotional fatigue and fear. People are overloaded, overwhelmed, depressed and anxious on every level. This is really hard stuff. The finger pointing has begun and is growing just like this virus. The one action everyone can take to close down shame and blame to help ourselves and each other is empathy. Yep empathy.
Brené Brown wrote “If you put shame in a petri dish, it needs three ingredients to grow exponentially: Secrecy, Silence, and Judgement. If you put the same amount of shame in the petri dish and douse it with empathy, it can’t survive.”
Every single one of us has had, or perhaps are experiencing, moments in life where we did not respond and react with our best self. Frustration, fear, anxiety, depression were forces in our life. Perhaps we lashed out at a loved one or a stranger. Perhaps we lashed out at ourselves. What if, during this COVID19 we all began to work at our ability to be more empathic with others? When we see someone not being their best self we tap into our empathy and respond with compassion. This does not mean it is ok for an individual to be demeaning with words or actions towards us. Empathy requires us to respond in a way that we take a moment to feel that person’s hurt, using words and actions that are gentle, strong, and kind.
“Empathy is about finding echoes of another person in yourself.” Mohsin Hamid
The Chinese symbol for the word crisis has two characters in it. One represents danger and the other represents opportunity. This crisis presents an opportunity to grow as a person, and improve your empathy. Empathy is like every emotion, it requires work to become a stronger emotional muscle. Ways to improve your empathy is to use your heart and feelings more. Ask questions (maybe only to yourself) about why someone might be doing whatever it is they are doing. Toss your judgmental thoughts out the door. None of us is perfect and we all have stuff. Become curious. Read more, have new experiences that stretch you allowing you to grow emotionally. Often the words, tone of voice, body language are great clues to how someone is feeling. This information can help you in how you respond when the other person is not at their best. Reflect upon moments where you were not at your emotional best and someone showed empathy to you. It makes a difference.
So most incredible individual I hope you are taking great care of yourself! I also hope you can use as much empathy as you can with everyone you come in contact with. There can never be too much kindness, compassion, and empathy in this world.
Leo Buscaglia said “Too often we underestimate the power of a touch, a smile. a kind word, a listening ear, an honest compliment, or the smallest act of caring, all of which have the potential to turn a life around.”
May your empathy be with you💜