Questions Promote Empathy
We live in a world with billions of individuals. Each individual having their own perception of how others should behave and not behave. The odds are pretty good that we’re going to conflict with one another’s viewpoints every so often, or maybe more often. Negatively judging someone can feel terrible inside and leave you feeling upset, distracted, irritated and ultimately effecting how you show up in the world. So how can you function in this world and not get tossed to and fro in the pinball machine of life?
Author, Jean Houston answers this. She says,
“Expand your inner capacity for radical empathy.”
Empathy, such a kind word. Defined as, “the action of understanding, being aware of, being sensitive to the feelings, thoughts, and experiences of another.”
It was once assumed that you were born with empathy and while yes, I absolutely believe we came to earth with divine virtues and traits, we have to do the refining, strengthening, and learning of these virtues through our experiences on earth. Empathy can be learned and expanded as Jean says.
I like Dr. Richards definition of empathy. It’s a little more tangible and relatable to me (or just easier to remember). Dr. Richards is a sociologist and professor of the largest race relations course in the United States. He said:
“My students often ask me, ‘what is sociology?’ And I tell them it’s the study of the way in which human beings are shaped by things that they don’t see.
And they say, ‘So, how can I be a sociologist? How can I understand those invisible forces?’ And I say, Empathy. Start with empathy. It all begins with empathy. Take yourself out of your shoes and put yourself into the shoes of another person.”
So often with my clients they come to me in pain and frustration because of some connections they have in their life, a family member, in law, co-worker, friend, acquaintance. They need relief and a way out because they’re stuck in their thinking.
They think that person shouldn’t be doing what they’re doing or saying what their saying. They should be different.
Every human has been here, a lot. It’s not a fun place. It feels terrible inside us and we think we’re at a total loss because there really is nothing we can do to change them without them wanting to change themselves.
How do you get out of this? Where’s the relief?
The first step to getting out of this place of judgement and negative feelings is to access empathy. How do you access empathy? Ask questions. Be curious about them. Open up the floodgates of inquiry.
“If you judge people, you have no time to love them.” – Mother Teresa
When you question why they might be doing what they’re doing, or saying what they’re saying you’re sowing the seeds of empathy. You’re taking yourself out of your shoes and trying on what might be theirs for a moment. What they might be thinking. What they might be feeling. Where they’re coming from.
Sometimes we have to stay in this place for a while. But even this place of inquiry is a much more pleasant place to be in than judgement. Negative Judgement doesn’t feel good. It doesn’t promote positive actions, nor positive results. Reflect back on a time that you judged someone. How did you feel? What did you do? What came from that?
It can even be something as small as being in the fast lane, in a hurry to get somewhere and then you get stuck behind Mr. slow poke who is going 60 in the 65 (70-75) mph lane. Ooo…that can feel frustrating, irritating, and leave us grumpy. Been there? I have. What did you do next? Stew about it? Silently curse them? Talk about them to someone? “Can you believe this?!” Now, what came from all this? What were the results of this thought line? You’re upset, bothered, the annoyed feeling lingering, and when you get to your destination you’re not showing up as your best self because of that incident.
You think it doesn’t have that big of an effect on you but even the smallest things create a ripple effect.
“Judging is preventing us from understanding a new truth. Free yourself from the rules of old judgements and create the space for new understanding.” – Steven Maraboli
Yesterday, I encountered this scenario. I was running behind to take my girls to music lessons. We were in the fast lane going 65mph like a good citizen should…okay fine, maybe 70…2…ish…when we were caught behind a car going 60. I immediately wanted to react with the above scenario but I stopped myself.
I started asking questions. Could they be unaware that they’re driving slow? Could they have had a bad experience while driving and now they’re playing it safe and not taking any chances? Could they be from out of town and aren’t used to us CA drivers? Could they be simply having so much fun chatting they don’t even realize their speed?
As I passed them I saw their license plate, sure enough, out of state. I said to myself, “We’ll give them this. They’re not from around here.” I noticed how I was feeling: calm, compassionate, loving. This created my actions which was to chat with my girls and laugh about funny things that had happened earlier in the day. This resulted with us having a wonderful time at music lessons and I was able to show up as my best me unencumbered by the weight of negative judgement.
“Whenever you feel like criticizing any one…just remember that all the people this world haven’t had the advantages that you’ve had.” – F. Scott Fitzgerald
Questions promote empathy.
If you’re struggling with someone and you don’t like how it feels inside the answer is to get to empathy. Start by taking yourself out of your shoes and placing them in theirs. Start by asking questions in your mind.
Empathy leads to an understanding and a place of love.
Love feels amazing. Love helps us show up as our best. Love allows others to show up as their best (THEIR best not your version of what their best should look like).
Ask questions. See what happens next.
If you’re struggling to get there and you can’t seem to break free of judgement, set up a mini session with me. I can help you. It’s free. Why not give it a try so you can FEEL BETTER?
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