Notice Empathy

Main Point – When you are tired, hungry, chronically stressed and with poor focus, it will be harder to enter into the experience of another. The paradox is that empathy can help to keep you healthy. 

Medical research estimates as much as 90 percent of illness and disease is stress-related. Emotional stress is a major contributing factor to the six leading causes of death in the United States: cancer, coronary heart disease, accidental injuries, respiratory disorders, cirrhosis of the liver and suicide.

Empathy can lower stress. Empathy promotes abilities that help us handle stress. Studies show that when we can regulate our emotions, we are better able to relate to others in positive ways. This is known as emotion regulation, which is the ability to take in the experiences of others without being overwhelmed.

Although stress may be brought on by many different things, it is processed in our bodies in similar ways. Stress keeps us ready for action. Over time, being on “ready, set” all the time is unhealthy. When we practice empathy, we can regulate ourselves emotionally. The side benefit from being fully engaged empathically is that we can exercise control over our emotions, taking care of our own stress, ultimately improving our health.

You have within you the power to believe that tomorrow can be better than today and that you can craft a plan to make it so. External events happen and we can impact our own estimation of how overwhelmed we feel as a result. 

If you are distressed by anything external, the pain is not due to the thing itself but to your own estimate of it; and this you have the power to revoke at any moment.”

—Marcus Aurelius

  • Think about a person you know who seems connected to others. What do you notice about their stress level? 
  • Observe the behaviors of famously centered people (e.g. Thich Naht Han). What behaviors and practices do they engage in? Do you believe that empathy made them well or that being well caused them to be empathetic? Why or why not?

Radical Empathy

  • It is often said that health = wealth. Studies reveal that wealth may be at odds with empathy and compassion. Research published in the journal Psychological Science found that people of modest economic means were better at reading others’ facial expressions—an important marker of empathy—than wealthier people. Has your income level changed? If so, how has that created a heart/ compassion/ empathy deficit?

Main Point – Try to understand people’s emotions when you are with them. Paying attention to how other people are feeling can positively impact your relationships. 

Good communication skills are perhaps the most basic skills that you can possess, yet they remain one of the most sought-after. Paying attention and trying to understand where other people are coming from can improve communication. Inattention and lack of empathy can cause people to misinterpret what other people are trying to say, which can ultimately lead to miscommunication, conflict, and damaged relationships.

People who express empathy are more likely to have healthy relationships. This is primarily because empathy can improve understanding when other people feel that their feelings and needs are important and being considered. It can also make it easier to form bonds and increase the likelihood that people receive meaningful help. When we decide to pay attention and attune to the needs of people around us, we have to avoid judging and focus on helping. When people feel empathy for others, they behave in helpful ways. This can affect people on an individual level, but it can also have more systemic effects when groups, governments, or societies deliberately demonstrate empathy toward people who need support.

Almost everything easy to mock turns out to be interesting if you pay closer attention.

  • Walking meditation – today notice the sensations of walking — “your feet on the ground, the wind caressing your skin, or sounds in the air ”Walking can take place either indoors or outdoors. To learn more about walking meditations, watch this 4 minute video.
  • Focused body scan – starting with the head and ending at the toes, consider your body parts and the feelings you have. Tightness? Tingling? Warmth? Cold? 

Radical Empathy

Open monitoring – learn to pay attention to what’s happening around you without becoming attached to it. This practice is not about paying attention to a particular object or objects. Instead, it’s about remaining open to any experience — internal or external — that arises, and allowing it to wash over you. Don’t process it, don’t think about it. Just notice. To do this, comfortably sit in an upright position and try to be aware of any sensations, thoughts or emotions that emerge, without holding on to them. It might help you to label what comes up by using words like “planning,” “future,” “judging,” “past.” You can do this silently or out loud. After you name it, let it go. Do this for 15 minutes.

Main Point – Read fiction allowing yourself to be transported into the book or article. Avoid violent movies, music, and video games which are proven to reduce empathy and increase aggression.

Reading can’t fix the world’s problems but it could help make it a more empathetic place. People who were assigned to read literary fiction showed the most improvement on empathy tests. It is found that people who read fiction tend to better understand and share in the feelings of others — even better understanding people who are different from themselves. Recent brain research suggests that reading literary fiction helps people develop empathy and critical thinking. When we read, we strengthen our empathy muscles. Through fiction, we can experience the world as another gender, ethnicity, culture, sexuality, profession or age. Words on a page can introduce us to what it’s like to lose a child, be swept up in a war, be born into poverty, or leave home and immigrate to a new country. And taken together, this can influence how we relate to others in the real world.

As your imagination becomes more engaged and you connect emotionally to characters, you improve your ability to reflect on your own feelings, problems, and desires. Understanding your own feelings can help you feel more connected to other people and actually reduce depression or anxiety. 

“Fiction is the lie through which we tell the truth.”

Albert Camus

  • Listen to an excerpt from the children’s literary fiction book, Mama’s Nightingale
  • What memory from a past experience (childhood or recent) came up for you as you listened to the story? Did you imagine yourself as the child or separate and apart from the child? What impact do you think that has on your ability to empathize with the character’s experience?

Radical Empathy

Consider your personal responsibility to teach empathy to other people. Got small children? Add these age-appropriate books to their library? Teens? This is a nice list of reading material that builds empathy? Friends? Colleagues? Schedule a book club discussion on these empathy building fiction works.

Main Point – Learn to accept positive and negative feedback with the same levels of grace. Ask people to share with you ways your thinking, your leadership, your parenting, or your service can be better.

Empathy is accepting that people have particular opinions. Your job is to listen and accept their opinion, without judgment. Acceptance is different from agreeing with that opinion. Without judgment, gratitude should come more naturally. When a person speaks up, especially providing critical or constructive feedback, they’re taking a risk and being vulnerable. Don’t get defensive.

Feedback is a process and it may be difficult the first or second time you’re in a feedback conversation to truly express gratitude and actively listen. But it will get easier over time. You’re growing, changing and improving all the time — and to continue doing so you’ll need more feedback. Receiving it well makes it more likely you’ll get additional feedback in the future from people (and anyone else they talk to about how conversations with you play out).

More importantly, restate the feedback you heard allowing the other person to feel seen, heard, and supported in the conversation. It confirms for them that the conversation isn’t a waste of their time. It is an empathetic act to understand and care about other people’s experience. The more we have empathy, the more we are attuned to what’s really going on for them. This allows for better communication and mutual understanding that can build the relationship.

Examine what is said and not who speaks.

– African proverb

  • Practice only saying “Thank you for sharing” when you receive criticism or feedback. 
  • Restate what you hear before responding to feedback or criticism in order to check your own understanding of the message. 

Radical Empathy

  • Notice when you tend to get defensive about feedback. What themes are present when you feel defensive? What are you telling yourself about the feedback giver? What are you feeling about yourself? What does this new knowledge reveal about where you tend to avoid being empathetic to yourself and others? What’s one thing you can do to improve?

Main Point – Focus on being intensely aware of what you’re sensing and feeling in the moment, without interpretation or judgment. Extend this awareness to communities where you belong.

Practicing mindfulness involves breathing methods, guided imagery, and other practices to relax the body and mind and help reduce stress. However, mindfulness isn’t simply about sharpening attention. When we practice mindfulness, we are simultaneously strengthening our skills of compassion.

Regular practice increases empathy and compassion for others and for oneself, and such attitudes are good for you. Compassion for ourselves is intertwined with being more compassionate toward others. As we demonstrate kindness, openness, and curiosity toward ourselves, it builds the self-compassion that helps foster compassion toward others. 

Dr. Shauna Shipiro says another way that mindfulness cultivates compassion is that it helps us recognize our interconnectedness. For example, imagine that your hand has a splinter in it. Wouldn’t you use your other hand to pull the splinter out? The left hand wouldn’t say to the right hand, “Oh, thank you so much! You’re so compassionate and generous!” The right hand removing the splinter is simply the appropriate response—it’s just what the right hand does, because the two hands are part of the same body. Empathy is engaging in the most appropriate responses. The more you practice mindfulness, the more you begin to behave as if we are all part of the same body.

Communication leads to community, that is, to understanding, intimacy and mutual valuing.

– Dr. Rollo May

Radical Empathy

Create Truth Racial Healing & Transformation in Your Community: Too often people resolve that racial healing and progress cannot be obtained. As such they avoid true efforts to create a path forward. Did you know that there is a framework for you to follow? Neither did we! Review it and decide how you might mimic these efforts in your community.

Main Point – Notice when connection or disconnection is occurring

To “read the table” was meant to quickly and discreetly scan all of the people around a conference table when entering a meeting to gauge or assess the general demeanor of the attendees. Similarly, to “read the room” means to do the same thing but in a larger sense. “Read the room” is a colloquial expression for understanding the thoughts, relations, emotions and stances of various people in the same place. Observing how an audience is responding can help you adjust in real time, address any objections, or invite questions. Being able to engage and respond to people appropriately, build trust and rapport can be particularly important when communicating and building empathy.

Sometimes you can almost feel a shift in people’s attention. They might start looking at their watches or cellphones, indicating they are ready to leave. Or something you say might provoke people to shut down or have an angry outburst. If you observe this occurring, you should respond to the changing situation, rather than continue talking or shutting down yourself without acknowledging the shift. You might say something like, “I can tell you didn’t like my last comments, so let’s talk about it.” Or if the other person needs more time to think, you could say, “Let me know what you thought about my comments and we can continue our conversation in a few days.”

It’s hard to notice things without people noticing me and that takes some getting used to.

– Eddie Falco

  • Be a social spy, you can discreetly observe, hold back, and take an inventory of the group or situation’s mood, tone, members, energy, etc.
  • Roleplay entering different situations and decoding what’s going on. Identify some things you will look for when reading the room?

Radical Empathy

Take the Reading the Mind in the Eyes test. What do you think about your results? How can you use this information to become an even more empathetic person?

Main Point – Practice empathy towards viewpoints that are not your own. Try following media, religious or cultural practices that vary from your own.

The theory of mind, which is a concept related to empathy, refers to our ability to comprehend that other people hold beliefs and desires, and that they might be different from our own. Cultures that tend to be more collectivistic tend to have higher levels of empathy. Collectivism involves seeing oneself as being part of a larger, interconnected group of familial and other close relationships, with a priority on fitting in with others and maintaining harmony. The United States has the lowest collectivism score of any nation but don’t fret. U.S. citizens can develop empathy despite being individualistic.

It is important to think about how a lack of exposure and indifference can be limiting in your own lives. If you aren’t empathetic and open to working and having relationships with people with different lived experiences, you limit the options you have in life. Like-minded people are less likely to stretch you beyond your current thinking.

All humans share some common traits. While it’s important to understand cultural diversity, acknowledging some common traits across cultures can also help you develop empathy. Uncovering what we have in common with someone from a different culture can make others seem more familiar, which will increase feelings of comfort across cultural differences.

If the ideas are not exposed to other people in the world, those ideas don’t do us any good.

Pooja Agnihotri

  • For 5 minutes watch or listen to news outside your norm for the sole purpose of being exposed rather than to debate the merits of what you hear.
  • What happened to your body? In your mind?

Radical Empathy

  • Schedule to have coffee or a drink with a family member, neighbor or someone else you have been in relationship with in the past but you stopped talking because of a difference of opinion.

Overcome the unthinkable

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