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Wednesday, April 25, 2012

A Little More Empathy

So yesterday I talked about happiness and relationships and the correlation between the two.  Yet with all that discussion, it leaves some questions unanswered in my mind, at least in terms of establishing friendships, creating relationships, and deepening them.   So to be fair, I am not really going to touch on how to establish new friendships as that is a wider topic than I wish to tackle and one that, to me at least, is dependent on individuals, how they interact with others, and what their comfort zone is.  However, I will delve into deepening the relationships we already have and enhancing them.  While there are many different means by which people seek to deepen relationships either through activities, conversation, or whatever; there is one key factor that plays an integral role in any relationship.  That key factor is empathy.  Empathy, simply put, is our ability to place ourselves temporarily in someone elses shoes in order to try and understand their feelings and emotions.  Without empathy, there is a lack of understanding and in turn, a lack of substance to any relationship.  In any relationship, people seek to be understood by others and to have others relate to them in a way that makes them feel accepted and comforted.  Yet despite the necessity of empathy being a part of any relationship, how many of us take time to practice the art of empathizing with others?  How many of us actually take time while listening to someone's story to try and place ourselves in their shoes and understand things from their perspective.  I would posit that most of us could do a lot more in the way of bringing empathy into the relationships we have.

I for one will be the first to admit that this is an area that I need to work on.  While I usually try to place myself in other's shoes and see things from their perspective, I often times waver and slip back into my selfishness.  It is not always easy to drop our own feelings on a matter and seek to understand things from someone elses perspective.  After all, we all have an ego that seeks to dominate us and drive our actions and reactions.  There is a time and place for ego, however, and that place is not in a relationship, especially if one wants to deepen a relationship.  I fall prey to this quite often, letting my ego and my selfishness take hold in a conversation, driving me to not listen to another person, cut them short, or try and impose my perspective on their situation (which most times never works).  For me, it takes active effort to try and empathize with others, to let go of myself in essence, in order to understand someone more deeply.  I find that when I can actually empathize with others, the conversation takes on more meaning, my understanding deepens, and we seem to be drawn closer to one another.  It seems that for the most part, people just want to be understood by others, yet if no one is willing to empathize with them, they are left wanting.  Some people are better than others at empathizing, yet I think the majority of us could do with putting in a little more effort in this area. 

To empathize doesn't mean we can't offer our opinion on something, it simply means we offer our opinion based upon our understanding of someone elses situation from their perspective.  How many times have we offered our opinion to someone only to see a look on their face that says, "What the hell are you talking about?"  Maybe the reaction wasn't quite that drastic, but you get my point.  Our opinion on someone elses situation can only help them if it is rooted in a true understanding of their situation.  To reach that true understanding, we need empathy.  Regardless if we are talking about marriage or mere friendship, any relationship takes work if we want it to last, to take on more meaning, and to deepen.   If we can manage to work on our empathy in relationships, than we can improve the quality of them, and in turn bring more happiness into our lives.  If we can empathize with others, then they will be more apt to empathize with us and seek to understand us and our situation.  Relationships should be a life long endeavor, but too often it seems as if we treat them in a way that we assume they will remain with us when in reality we must work to keep a relationship alive.   We have all had friends go their separate ways.  How many of those friends departed because there was a lack of empathy, a lack of work that went into the relationship?  Not all relationships end because of a lack of empathy, but I guarantee that it is a factor a lot of the time.  So today, in any conversation we have with someone else, lets seek to employ a little more empathy and see if we can't understand someone else from their perspective. 

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