Humanity’s Highest Social Intelligence (365 Days of Spirited Living – DAY 191)
“Empathy is seeing with the eyes of another, listening with the ears of another, and feeling with the heart of another.”
— Alfred Adler
Empathy is the emotional connectivity that we all share to experience and understand another person’s pain, position, and perspective. You place yourself in another person’s shoes to feel what they are feeling, hear what they are hearing, and see what they are seeing. And for at least a little while, empathy allows us to live what someone else is living.
I don’t believe we are born into the world with empathy. But we can develop it. While American culture particularly systematically grooms people into become individualistic and self-dependent, research shows that empathy allows mirror neurons in our mind to react to emotions, feelings, and viewpoints expressed by others and be able to experience them within ourselves. When we do, we realize that every battle faced by another human being is significant. And that every heartbreak felt by another person is just as important as our own.
No one can ever say that they got to where they are alone. It may have taken individual perseverance and determination. But it also took people. You will do everything that you do in life through, with, or by people. The most successful people have a close friend or family member — even if it is just one — who is there for them and who helps them, stands beside them, catches them when they fall, and backs them up. An understanding of people is necessary for success.
Those who take the time to understand people — what makes them tick, what makes them sad, what makes them move, and what makes them stay stagnant — will go farther in life than those who attempt to live as lone rangers. To make the most of your existence and time on earth, you must be wiling to involve and engage people.
It takes work to understand people. But you have to do the work. Empathy is humanity’s highest social intelligence. Without it, we are doomed as a society. The best advice my counseling professor ever gave to our class was to always be willing to hear and understand. Hearing and understanding takes an examination of our own personal attitudes and biases, putting aside our viewpoints, asking what the other person would ask, and listening. In short, hearing and understanding takes work.
Being able to understand people is a power that is available to all of us. It is our responsibility to master it. We can nurture empathy’s growth in our lives in our encounters and engagements with friends, family, and strangers. We can use it as a force for transformation in our lives, our society, and our world. Our principle goal in life is not to be well informed or well liked, but to be well heard and well understood. And that is a goal for all people.
Empathy is not weakness. Sometimes we can get so caught up in our own lives that we don’t see other people. We have to learn to think in terms of how what we do will affect other people. When you cultivate and embrace empathy, you will see yourself resolving conflicts faster, bypassing confusion and chaos, and not succumbing to emotional drains. Your life will change for the better when you take the time to understand people and love them no matter how different they are.
“Humankind seems to have an enormous capacity for savagery, for brutality, for lack of empathy, for lack of compassion.”
— Annie Lennox