Empathy: We All Have It

By Anthony Farag
Independent Love & Logic Facilitator
Resource Training & Solutions

 

First, let’s understand what empathy is. Empathy is the ability to feel what another person is feeling. It can be a sense, a perception, or an awareness of another’s emotional state. People naturally have varying degrees of empathy.

Empathy occasionally gets a bad rap. Some may see it as going “soft” or making excuses for someone else. However, I would say that empathy is not going soft. In fact, empathy is a very important element in how we effectively relate to each other and get along.

Stephen Hawking, the brilliant British scientist, states that the most important human attribute that might foster hope for our future is not technological expertise, strength, or even knowledge. He believes the most important human attribute for our future is empathy.

Empathy in itself does not right all wrongs. So then why does empathy matter in general and especially in our parenting? Here’s why: when we convey empathy, we are able to let another person know that we understand how they feel.

When you are hurting, how do you feel when those closest to you seem to have absolutely no sense of your pain? It is not uncommon for a hurting person to feel angry, distant, or despondent. When people feel angry, distant, or despondent, they cannot communicate with someone else in the best way and then personal relationships suffer.

When parents show empathy before delivering a consequence, the chances for learning and changed behavior in their children increases greatly. Parents are much less likely to be seen as “the enemy” when they demonstrate empathy.

Although some people say they just can’t “feel” another person’s pain, it may be that those people feel uncomfortable with another’s pain and generally try to avoid that emotion except in certain socially acceptable situations.

Here’s an example: I had a conversation with a dad who complained that he could not feel empathy for his daughter when she did something wrong. He claimed he never felt anything for anyone else.

I asked him, “You never, ever feel empathy?” He confirmed that he never did.

I then asked him, “Do you ever watch a football game?” He said, “Sure, every Sunday.”

I said, “Okay, have you ever seen a football play where the quarterback was sacked with a really powerful blitz or a receiver got completely plowed over with a blind-sided hit by a fast moving defender trying to force him to cough up the ball?” He replied, “Oh, yeah!”

I asked him, “What do you think of in the moment you see that kind of hit?” He winced and said, “I think, ‘OW!’ Don’t we all think that?”

I smiled and said, “Yes! That’s empathy! Certainly, if you can feel empathy for a stranger over what they are going through on television, you can feel empathy for your daughter when you know she’s going to endure an uncomfortable consequence.” He got what I was saying.

Most of us have do have some degree of empathy. We just need to grow our capacity for it. We can do this by saying empathetic statements before giving our kids a consequence. This kind of Love & Logic practice will make you more comfortable with empathy and will help empathy flow more naturally out of you every day, in all situations.

We don’t have to leave all our empathy in one place—like on a football field.