Empathy and relationships

Empathy, as the dictionary defines it, is ‘the ability to understand how someone feels because you can imagine what it is like to be him.’

Jess Lair, an inspirational writer put it in simple terms. “Empathy is: your pain in my heart.” Pain being a universal emotion is felt by all, and therefore, every human being who boasts of a heart ought to have empathy built into his being. In its natural absence, empathy should be painstakingly embraced into one’s life philosophy.

It is interesting to note that those of us with a lot of personal appeal have the gift of empathy. Being empathetic makes us approachable, agreeable and friendly. It breeds into a relationship such remarkable elements as patience, kindness and square dealings.

The boss who understands the difficulties of his subordinates, the teacher who endeavours to reach out to the less scholarly students, the parent who makes an attempt to see the world through the eyes of his rebellious teenage child, the friend with deep feelings for his envious pals, all exhibit empathy in their interpersonal relationships that make them people-centred rather than self-centred.

The crux of empathy is always to consider the needs of others before one’s own needs. It is all about fine-tuning one’s ears to listen with an understanding mind and heart, keeping in perspective from where the other person is coming.  

Among the many ways of exercising empathy in our daily living, an effective approach is simply to put ourselves in other people’s shoes in any given situation. Yet another method of being empathetic is to use our own personal shortcomings as a sounding board from where empathy could be nurtured.

The following story brings out in a powerful manner how personal limitations can be successfully used to practise empathy. An eight year-old boy goes to a pet store with his dad to buy a puppy. The store manager shows them five furry little puppies huddled together.
 
The boy notices one of the litter all by itself in an adjacent pen. When asked for the reason for its solitary confinement, the manager explains that the puppy was born with a bad leg and would be crippled for life.

After a short conversation with his boy, the dad tells the manager that they wanted to buy the puppy with the bad leg. “For the same amount of money, you could have one of the healthy ones.  Why do you want this one?” reasons out the manager.

To answer the manager’s question, the boy bends over and pulls on his right leg, exposing the brace beneath and says, “Sir, I want this one because I understand what he’s going through!”

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