We Need Some Empathy

What’s the answer to the question, “What’s wrong with the world today?”

Lack of empathy. I’m sure that’s an oversimplification. Regardless, it’s a great place to start.

Every human being deserves respect, equality, freedom, and to be treated like a human being. It’s even in our constitution.

However, our world polarizes and separates us because of our differences; race, gender, sexuality, religious beliefs, and the like. In fact, we have become so polarized; we see people not like us as the enemy.

Who Is Our Enemy?

Our enemy tends to be the persons we fear and don’t understand. We dehumanize our enemies so we may see them as objects to be hated and loathed; scapegoats.

We all need a scapegoat for what is wrong with the world and what is wrong in our life. It is a cognitive distortion often referred to as blaming. It is easy to see how others make our world imperfect and mess up.

Rarely do we look inward to see how we are contributing to what is wrong with the world.

What Can We Do?

So what can we do about the chaos of the world we live in today? The answer is at the beginning of this blog; empathy.

So what is empathy? Empathy is the ability and capacity to understand and feel what another person is experiencing; to step inside one person’s perspective and feel what they feel.  Yech…I don’t even like what I feel half the time! Exactly.

So how do we get empathy? By listening to the other.

Wisdom From Yoda, As Usual

In Star Wars, Episode One – The Phantom Menace, Yoda tells young Anakin that fear is the path to the dark side; fear leads to anger; anger leads to hate; hate leads to suffering.

I’d like to turn that more positively, Yoda.

Listening is the path to peace; listening leads to hearing; hearing leads to understanding; understanding leads to empathy; empathy leads to compassion; compassion leads to love, even love of enemy.

Are you willing to begin listening to your enemy; one with whom you disagree; the one on the other side of an issue? Or will you continue to fear what they are saying because it is not what you believe or have learned?

Perhaps if you start listening, you can begin to understand why someone else feels the way they do and you will hate them less; maybe even love them. You might even begin to find a little peace in the world around you. Maybe if we all try, we can end the suffering we witness in the world today.

Remember, listening leads to love and peace. Fear leads to hate and suffering. There seems to be a lot more hate and suffering these days.

It’s time to start listening.

Here are a few skills and facts you can learn to help become a better listener:

Listening means self-soothing to avoid becoming reactive or defensive.

Listening is allowing for ambiguity and discomfort.

Listening requires real empathy and the elimination of contempt and condescension.

Listening means surrendering the need to be right. You can see other sides to a situation and respect other opinions.

Likewise, listening is actually hearing what is being said without feeling the need to state your reason they are wrong.

Listening involves attempting to find other valid points, even if you disagree.

Listening requires not taking things personally.

Listening is a function that comes from the neocortex, which requires a strong and healthy vagal nerve. There are many ways to strengthen it; breathing, smiling, yawning, gratitude, serving others, and the like. Guess what? Listening also strengthens the vagal nerve.

Defensiveness and ignoring what others believe comes from the lower brain. The reptile and mammal part of your brain take no effort to strengthen. The lower brain drives instinctively and is working to keep you alive. It is driven by fear and negativity.