Empathy requires that we get into others’ shoes, yet how many of us realise that to do this we need to get out of our own?
A middle-aged father once confronted his teenage daughter, telling her “You are so empathetic to your mother, yet I do not experience the same empathy.” The daughter sought her father’s explanation for such a remonstration and the father replied; “You are always telling me how hard your mother works and that I need to show more affection; however, you never say the opposite.” The daughter replied, “Papa, but mother never complains and you always do.”
True empathy requires that we get into others’ shoes, yet to do this we need to get out of our own. This we never do.
True empathy involves realising that just as I seek comfort, security and happiness and wish to avoid suffering, fear and pain, so does the other. Empathy means removing the weight from the pan favouring myself and putting it on the pan of the other. It requires openness and to look at the other as ‘you’ rather than a ‘he’ or a ‘she’.
When both I and the others are similar in wanting to be happy, what causes me to only think of myself? Why do I strive for my happiness alone when both I and the other want the same? Why do I protect myself and not the other? If I were to allow myself to dwell on the above thoughts I would be less ‘self-concerned.’ Concern for others emerges as the route of authentic being which counteracts with the inauthentic distortion of self-concern. Concern for others diminishes ‘self-concern’, ‘self-obsession’ and ‘narcissism.’
(The writer is an organisational and behavioural consultant. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org)
Keywords: Conversations with Self column