Cultivation of Empathy

In a world where we seem to be separating from each other with our ‘me-ism’, never in the history of mankind has there been a greater need for empathy and understanding of other people. Technology helps us connect, making it is easier than ever to communicate. Yet, despite this, we seem to be more focused on ourselves and our individual opinions than being genuinely concerned with the lives of other people. We can easily remain detached from each other, severing the connection at any time by turning off the switch to the device we are using or closing an app. On the other hand, technology can give us instant insights as to what another person is doing and how they are feeling within moments shared during their day. What is loss in technology is the invaluable human emotions which can only be seen and felt in person. The human relationship that exists with a face-to-face, real-time interaction, is where we connect on a human level, experiencing the joys, the sorrows, the presence of human souls in their existence, and in the way which humans were meant to connect. While technology is one way to extend empathy and connect, making time in person with people is where empathy is truly cultivated best.

We have our own social circles with family and friends where we find belonging. Belonging is one of the essential parts of human existence. Within these circles there are people who are accepted as part of them, and those who are not accepted. Developing a greater sense of empathy might be a consideration, for those groups or social circles which have an exclusive nature about them. Seeing people outside these circles as ‘outsiders’ and not acceptable, may be conquered with greater empathy, by understanding those who are different from us. It is easy to breed stereotypes and assumptions without truly getting to know others who are different. Finding common ground with ‘outsiders’, extends a hand of acceptance despite these differences. Rather than following assumptions, taking the opportunity to learn more about other beliefs first-hand or through research, is an opportunity to make a new friend rather than cause isolation. What better way to enrich a social circle than to use good etiquette and empathy toward other people and facets of life—and as an added benefit may learn from them as well.

What is interesting is that within some cultures, stereotypes and exclusiveness seem to be the quickest route to elitism. Cultures should find this appalling rather than applauding this. There is a special richness found when people of different backgrounds, each with their own stories, can contribute to circles with their individual qualities. Well-rounded people are those who have a rich portfolio of many kinds of friends and see human-value over differences. Typically those who travel the world are more likely to be accepting, as there is an appreciation for different cultures and beliefs. Those who work directly with people, such as caregivers also have a tendency to extend empathy easier because they see past medical and physical issues and are able to see the person. Young children also are naturally more empathetic in their innocence, blinded to the stereotypes which are formed even at an early age taught by their families and in social circles.

Additionally, media has an influence on cultivating empathy. Media can provide education in a unique way, where a person can learn about a situation first-hand by viewing it on screen or reading a description of it. Stories are a way to educate as they pull heart-strings and provide a chance to understand what it might be to “walk in another person’s shoes”. It may be easier for a person to find empathy with an actor who lives a situation within a movie, versus a stranger who we encounter in real life.

Empathy is a way to extend kindness to another person through understanding. It is with empathy that we find a path to growth. Cultivating empathy means finding opportunities to expanding our minds beyond ourselves to include another.

Article written for Zealousness publication

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