The Art of Empathy


Empathy: the ability to understand and share the feelings of another.

I am currently in the last week of a course called Positive Intelligence. It is six weeks of identifying and getting to know our saboteurs. Meaning those characters that we consciously or unconsciously have created to survive the world. These characters get created at a very young age when we don't have the skills, experience or wisdom to navigate the world. Of course, I am not alone in this way of being in the world. In my experience, this is how we all function. If we have a good look at the state of humanity, I think it is safe to say that it's being run by some youngsters, and I mean no offence as I include myself in this. Please take this with a light heart and a sense of humour—but also seriously.

One emotion that I found most transformational was empathy. This was profound for me as this was twofold. One is having empathy for others which I do some of the time, and find myself doing often, but not often enough. On the other hand, having empathy for myself is another matter entirely. I rarely show empathy to myself and I don't think I am alone in showing self-empathy. How many of us find it difficult or even offer up any empathy to ourselves? Take a minute of reflection, check in with yourself. Bring up a memory of a situation where you made an error or where you are or others are not satisfied with your performance. What emotions show up? If you are anything like me you will likely experience shame, guilt and other negative emotions.

EmpathyPhoto by Alex Green from Pexels

What if we started generating empathy as our first responder to any circumstances? What if we just accepted the knowledge that a series of characters that we created as a pre-adolescent like the judge, avoider, controller or the stickler—just a few of the names of possible saboteurs—is running the show? What if we just cut everyone, including ourselves, a little slack? I think being empathetic neutralizes the righteous judge character in all of us. Why? Because we see ourselves in someone else.

In Denmark, they have been running mandatory empathy classes in school for the past 30 years. Kids and adults in Denmark have fewer mental health problems and are more resilient overall. In these classes, students are asked to share with everyone what their challenge is and everyone is encouraged to listen and get related to the person and engage in problem-solving and follow up. I think this is missing formally here in Canada. I would love to see this training implemented at every level of education. At La Luma, we saw the need for this when we first opened the academy. We noticed that if we got people to state what was going on for them and if people just listened with empathy, then people usually had answers to their own problems. Formal empathy training will increase team productivity, loyalty and community.

In conclusion, my takeaway is if you want more empathy in the world, start with researching and developing an empathy practice for yourself. I have it that if you can be more empathetic to yourself it will naturally spill over into other areas and people in your life.