Everyone around you struggles with an insecurity that they try to hide from the world. Sometimes their feelings and emotions betray those insecurities; sometimes, they don’t. Either way, these insecurities hinder a person’s relationship-building abilities and weighs them down in life. That is why people should always strive to understand and share other people’s feelings and emotions. That is what empathy is all about.
Unknown to us, sometimes we lead isolated lives to the point of becoming sociopaths. We live in bubbles, so we don’t give other people the warmth and care that they so desperately need. We are so busy winning arguments, competing against the world, and living life that we become empathy-deficient. Instead of seeing people as a homogeneous community, it would be great if you developed empathy and make genuine efforts to understanding each person in your life at a personal level. Here are ten actions that will help you become an empathetic individual:
1. Be curious
Cultivate your sense of curiosity. Learn to ask people if everything is okay. If they are in trouble, ask them how they got there and what you can do to help. If they call you, offer to go meet them in person just to see how much deep into the trouble they are in. That will help you dig out more about a person’s personal problem, so you are able to offer the best possible solution as per your abilities.
2. Challenge yourself to learn
Challenge yourself to take on challenging experiences. Leave your comfort zone, your bubble, and venture into unchartered territories. Go to neighborhoods you grew up knowing were “bad.” Learn to play an instrument you think is useless. Learn as many foreign languages as you can. Learn about different religions and cultures. Bottom line: The more you learn new things, the more the people you will be able to relate with and understand, and the more empathetic you will become.
3. Be generous
Random acts of kindness can go a long way in solving other people’s problems. You don’t need to give fancy gifts to be empathetic. A simple gift such as a customized fingerprint bracelet is enough to show that you want to be part of another person’s life, so they are able to open up to you more. Also, be generous with your time. If a colleague is sitting alone during lunch, for example, offer to sit with them.
4. Learn to listen
Learn to give others the courtesy of your undivided attention by ridding your mind off any preoccupations whenever you engage in a conversation. Keep your phone away to avoid any distractions. Look people in the eyes when they talk to you and give honest feedback while at it.
5. Be willing to show emotional support
Show emotional support by giving people your trust and affirmation. Let them know that they can count on you. Encourage them along their emotional path. Let them know that you trust they will make the right decisions. Hug them if it is appropriate.
6. Examine your biases
Bias is a key hindrance to empathy. Unfortunately, we all have biases, hidden or unhidden, that we hold against people based on their age, religion, sexual orientation, the color of their skin, their home town, past history, gender, level of education, wealth, or even political inclination. Don’t convince yourself that you aren’t biased because you definitely are. Examine those biases and try to rise above them.
7. Be slow to judge
Humans tend to feel like they are correct all the time; the reason being that we mostly see things from our own perspective. It is important to admit that your perspective can be flawed at times, so you try to see things from other people’s perspectives. Your chances of misunderstanding people will reduce, you will be slow to judge, and you will understand people better.
8. Check your privileges
There are things you benefit from even without you realizing it. Your race, your family history, your financial status, and sexual orientation, for example, can give you a special status that other people around you don’t necessarily have. Your interaction with law enforcers, for example, could be very different from what some of your friends go through at police checks and airports, maybe because you have the “right” skin color or religious beliefs. Check those privileges when listening to other people’s problems.
9. Talk to people
Do you know your friend’s family? Do you know how many of your colleagues drive to work or who uses public commute? Talk to people to know them better. Make yourself approachable, so people come to talk to you.
10. Don’t be Mr. Fix It
Many people avoid empathy because they aren’t sure if they have what it takes to fix other people’s problems. Empathy doesn’t work like that. You don’t have to fix people’s problems- just listen to them and be present. You will be surprised to see them solving their own problems without any input from you, well, besides the emotional support.
Being empathetic toward others is healthy, not just for them but to you as well. You will make more friends along the way; people who will be empathetic to you later in life. It also makes you a better person. There is no losing when you show empathy.