THE REAL EMPATHY
In an age when self-help books on empathy and compassion are rife, do we really know what it means to practise what we preach? By Li Ying Lim.
eeling from a break-up or returning from the deep end of depression; through the Internet world and network of friends, you draw strength to get back on your feet again. However, empathy in the digital world can be challenging. “We need to move beyond the emotionally illiterate world of online ‘like’ buttons. If you see, via Facebook or other platforms, that a friend has done something interesting or gone through something tough, don’t just ‘like’ their post or write a one-line comment. Phone them and have a real human interaction,” says Roman Krznaric, a New York Times best-selling author. ven though empathy is a big thing—think powerful words of wisdom, empowering speeches, and courses and retreats that teach you to live a fuller life, not to mention the meditative practices that flood social media with philosophies of healing and growing— there is a dearth of real willingness to put oneself in the other’s shoes. With a culture of “talking, not listening” dominating modern living, it is easy to fall prey into thinking you’re empathising, when in actuality, you’re judging. “If you are arguing with your husband, wife, or partner, focus on two things: What are their feelings? And what are their needs?” Krznaric suggests. “Giving them a chance to express their feelings and needs is a powerful way to reduce tension in tough situations. It really works. Even if you can’t always reach an agreement, ultimately, we just want to know we’ve been listened to.” ction Love, created by psychotherapists Barry Michels and Phil Stutz, co-authors of The Tools, spreads the love of beating our ego to see past our preconceived judgements. “The ego is the part of you that makes judgements about what should and shouldn’t happen,” says Michels. “All it wants to do is right the wrong, and since that’s impossible, it stays stuck. To get out of the maze, you need something stronger than the ego; something less concerned with judging what’s fair and unfair. In our book, we call that the force of ‘outflow’. Think of it as a force that loves life in all of its forms—good, bad, ugly, beautiful, fair, and unfair. Outflow accepts everything that exists—without the judgements the ego makes. It’s kind of like sunlight—it just shines on everybody without judging whether or not they deserve it.” ife ultimately sets out a path we all have to walk on our own. Compassion and empathy, love and light, can guide us to a certain extent, but only our selves can conquer the fear, that inner voice that keeps us from shining our brightest. Sir John Hargrave, author of Mind Hacking, admonishes, “Becoming aware of that voice and then learning to observe it is an important step in personal growth. When we become aware of that voice—when we can learn to think beyond what we feel—we can retrain ourselves to live better. You don’t have to believe everything you think, but you have to be aware of it if you want to have a choice.” And do not be afraid to have meaningful discussions. “Conversing,” says Dr. Samantha Boardman, founder of Positive Prescription, “enables us to find meaning in our lives.”