In the 250 Words series, the RU Student Life writers are posed a question, and in 250 words they each offer their insights. Share yours with us @RUStudentLife.
Question 20: What does “empathy” mean to you?
Jessica: Moving Towards Enlightenment
Empathy can range anywhere from that heart-wrenching nausea you feel when someone you love is suffering to that concerning need to check if a crying stranger is okay. To me, empathy is the act of putting yourself in someone else’s shoes and showing compassion to someone who needs your support more than you need theirs.
Empathy is also not black and white. It can be difficult to be empathetic towards someone who has wronged you, someone who doesn’t see that their actions are problematic, or someone who might not have otherwise been emphatic to you. Nonetheless, I think it’s important to strive for empathy even when it’s challenging.
I like to believe that humans are naturally empathetic creatures. Without it, the world would be a more chaotic place than it already is. We have to trust that most people are good at heart and that their kindness is sincere. Empathy also comes easier to some people than others. Some people can read devastating news and feel the pain of those who suffered all day. Others may be upset, but move on with their day almost immediately. Others still, will feel compassionate enough to act on their empathy in the form of advocacy.
Regardless of where we fall on the spectrum, I think we should all strive to be a little more empathetic. Having empathy for someone does not mean you excuse or accept their troublesome behaviours; however, it does mean you try to understand what factors may have affected their choices. The difference, albeit subtle, is immense. Practicing empathy allows us to move towards enlightenment.
Danielle: It Can Be Difficult
To me, it is extremely important to be empathetic in order to be a friend, family member, and just a good human being in general. Having empathy is all about not only understanding, but also being able to share in the feelings of another person. I try to live my life by the saying “always be kind because everyone is fighting a battle you know nothing about.” Which sounds like a inspirational thing in theory, except nobody ever tells you about the emotional toll it can sometimes take on you.
I pride myself in being someone who is always willing to listen be there for others. I do my best to see the good in everyone despite whatever disagreement or misunderstanding we may be having by trying to figure out where they’re coming from. But sometimes taking on the weight of someone else’s emotional distress really gets the best of me. I don’t think I’ve ever struggled more to put my thoughts into words than I did when trying to write this piece. Basically, this past week I was in a position where I just didn’t want to be empathetic anymore because it was just too hard.
However, I still believe that it is important to try and see a situation from someone else’s point of view and act towards others with compassion. It will ultimately make the world a better place. I just know that I personally can’t handle it sometimes and when that happens I need to take a step back. I know that this piece doesn’t quite answer the question of what empathy means to me… but this is how I am currently feeling about being an empathetic person at this point in time.
Sunita: Show Empathy Boldly
For me, empathy can be as intense as having a deep emotional reaction to someone else’s tragedy, or as simple as putting your phone down at the dinner table to give full attention to a friend’s problem. I think everyone is intrinsically empathetic – to an extent; it’s important to demonstrate just how much we care when someone we love or even don’t know is going through something.
Sometimes it’s hard for us to be empathetic when we don’t relate to what someone else is going through. Lately, I’ve been trying to pay extra attention to things I don’t understand and to educate myself about other’s life experiences. Especially in today’s political climate it’s important for us to educate ourselves and show empathy boldly, and without any reservation or fear, and it’s important to vocalise when something matters to us and to ask for others to show empathy towards certain topics or people.
It’s also important to ask for empathy because as human beings I think it is a necessity to feel connected to others and to feel that connection reciprocated. In the digital age that we live in, often our empathy and compassion for others can be clouded behind how distracted we are all the time, and it’s made me realize that the simple act of eye contact can show so much compassion. Whenever a friend goes through a problem, I always think about it in terms of “how would I want someone to show me compassion?”, and I think that it’s something we should constantly be aware of.
Robyn: Empathy Inspires Action
We are all taught that empathy is the ability to understand other people’s feelings on a deep and interpersonal way. Putting yourself in others’ shoes will give you the insight to be completely compassionate. In my view, empathy has always been an important trait for affecting change. It makes people care, and that inspires a call to action. Practising empathy in 2017 could be even more important than previous years, while we find ourselves in a political climate where many groups are being marginalized or threatened. To those of us upset by injustice in the world, it’s important to know that we are promoting empathy by talking about the issues. Telling stories that emotionally touch another is what embodies humanity. A more empathetic world in my view means a more understanding world. An empathetic environment is more inclusive, selfless and peaceful.
Having a deep sense of empathy can strengthen relationships because it’s something we all need from others. I need it when I seek understanding by having my friends listen to my problems. You can tell when someone really understands you, even if they have never gone through the same things. A good friend is an empathetic friend who can forget their own biases and see the problem from my point of view. Channeling emotions and doing simple things like reading novels can improve your ability to be empathetic. It’s a skill we can improve on everyday and spread in our community.
How do you enact empathy in your daily life? Share with us. You can read more 250 Words here.