I’ve come to what I believe is a very significant and oftentimes overlooked conclusion about relationships – both personal and professional. People don’t ever PLAN to offend us – though there are certainly some manipulative and calculating individuals out there. The conclusion I’ve finally discovered is that so many people (and I mean A LOT!) simply do not possess any kind of genuine empathy.
I truly appreciate this Anonymous definition of what empathy is. “Empathy is seeing with the eyes of another, listening with the ears of another and feeling with the heart of another.”
While that might sound easy to do, few I’ve encountered have truly mastered what I consider a social art. Where we get stuck so often is in the listening.
Yes, we’re all hearing what other people are saying to us, but are we really listening to the sincerity in which they’re trying to communicate? Are we trying to imagine what it would be like to feel and express emotions which are obviously troubling to them?
If we were, our first reaction to these difficult discussions wouldn’t be to immediately get defensive, or worse yet, challenging the way in which someone is feeling. If you’re looking for a tell-tale sign that someone is NOT empathetic towards you and your concerns, challenging your feelings is about as clear as it gets. People don’t ever plan to offend us, but this surely will feel like it.
What eventually happens after repeated attempts to constructively engage with a family member, a friend or a supervisor at work about something that’s legitimately distressing you – with little to no empathy provided – is you simply stop bringing it up. But that doesn’t mean you’ve forgotten about how this lack of empathy has made you feel.
We all deserve to be heard – especially if our concerns are repeatedly communicated with validity. If we listened – and I mean truly listened with an empathetic ear – I suspect many of the family, political and professional problems which burden so many of us would drastically be reduced.
But we can’t. Why? Because that would mean the possibility of NOT getting our own way. Of having to reach a compromise which limits the overall benefit to ourselves. For it’s the ego of so many people (and I mean A LOT!) which prevents empathic conversations from occurring in the first place. Yes, people don’t ever plan to offend us – but the greatest offenses are often the ones we choose not to see.
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HH 14th Dalai Lama teaches that empathy combined with compassion is what makes kindness
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