Empathy is the ability to emotionally understand what other people feel, see things from their point of view, and imagine yourself in their place.
It’s about being able to recognize oneself in the other, and the other in oneself.
While the human brain is actually primed for both competition and cooperation, the one never completely supersedes the other. Which side of us emerges as more dominant is dependent on our culture and surroundings, but both are important skills to master.
As with much in life, it’s all about balance.
We are all capable of selfish behaviour, and sometimes it is actually important to know when to put yourself first. But, the reality is that we can’t engage only in self-serving behaviour all the time. As social creatures it is important to identify with another and to thereby be able to respond appropriately, be it with kindness or understanding.
Effective cooperation and communication requires being in tune with the emotional states and goals of others, and the benefits speak for themselves:
- Social connections are fundamentally important for physical and psychological well-being. Being empathetic empowers people to build social connections with others, and enables people to respond appropriately in social situations.
- Emotional regulation is important. It allows people to manage what they are feeling, even in times of great stress, without becoming overwhelmed. Empathy teaches you to identify, understand, and then regulate your own emotions.
- Empathy promotes helpfulness, consideration and care. It’s a two way street; whether giving or receiving, people are more likely to engage in helpful, considerate and caring behaviours when they feel empathy for other people.
Fortunately, empathy is a skill that we can all learn and strengthen. Below are a few things that you can do to develop this essential skill:
- Work on listening to people when they are speaking without interrupting or listening to respond.
- Pay attention to body language and other types of nonverbal communication as it might provide clues to people’s true feelings.
- Try to understand other people and their point of view, even if you don't agree with them.
- People are more receptive and open when you are interested, so ask questions to learn more about them and their lives.
- When considering a situation, imagine yourself in another person's shoes to better understand their point of view.
As empathy is a learned skill that benefits both parties in a social interaction, we encourage everyone to focus on honing this skill to improve yourself as a person, as well as the community you form a part of. Empathy is also one of the four cornerstones that ESCA was built on in an attempt to create a caring and secure school environment, work towards a better future and instill important values in the leaders of tomorrow.
Take a look at ESCA’s poster of the Empathy Model, and let us know what you think in the comments section.
Stay Safe. Stay kind.