Often we say, “I know exactly how you feel!”   But do we really?  It takes much connecting with another person before really understanding him or her.  

That is what empathy is.  It is placing yourself in another’s position.  It is identifying and understanding another person’s feelings without experiencing them at that particular moment.  Daniel H. Pink said it best:  “Empathy is about standing in someone else’s shoes, feeling with his or her heart, seeing with his or her eyes. Not only is empathy hard to outsource and automate, but it makes the world a better place.”  It does take some selflessness. Thankfully, our empathy can grow and blossom as we take steps.

Here are some of the gradual steps:

  • Walk a mile in someone’s shoes.”  With an unbiased opinion, look at the issue from another’s perspective.  If you can’t make this switch in perspective, you will not be able to empathize.
  • Determine the other person’s motives.  Often his motives will be influenced by his family, his background, his education, his life circumstances, his thought pattern. Use the switch to discover how it would feel to be that person.
  • Respond with understanding compassion.  This will help to avoid leaping to conclusions, starting an opinionated argument, or judging too quickly.
  • Observe the likeness in personality and thoughts.  Do not be blinded by the unlikeness. In reality, we are all people. Again, the switch from differences is good.
  • Above all else, be quiet, listen, be gentle, be respectful, and love.  Titus 3:2 has good words: “… show perfect courtesy to all people.”

Empathy is a learned skill that can be continually practiced.  Think of a time you felt someone else’s empathy, perhaps in your time of grief. Wasn’t your heart uplifted when you felt that person’s heart toward you? What a gift to give to another!

Helen Keller had the gift of compassion and empathy:  “I cried because I had no shoes until I met a man who had no feet.”