“That’s Why And Z Too!”
Why is empathy important? As a boy, whenever I didn’t want to do what my mother asked, like many kids, I’d ask, “Why?” Mom would inevitably come back with, “That’s Why and Z, too!” In other words, “Do what I say, or else.” She’d had a hard life growing up, so whenever I complained, she’d launch into her, “Well your mother had it hard, too!” speech. She’d then recount her story. Mom had little, if any, empathy. She seemed uninterested in my story, or in my feelings. A lot of parents do this, so it’s not abnormal. Except, she did this so much that I learned not to share my deepest thoughts or concerns with her. I didn’t believe she had empathy for me.
Why is Empathy Important?
Empathy, the ability to put yourself in another person’s shoes, raises important questions. In my last blog, which you can read here, I recounted a salient experience that formed the beginning of my initial efforts to become a chaplain, later a counselor. Not everyone, however, is in the same position. You may wonder, therefore, why it’s so important to learn how others feel, think, or believe. You may have little or no interest in becoming a chaplain, counselor, or pastor. “Why must I learn this skill of empathy?” you may ask.
Another reason you may feel this is not something I need: Don’t we mostly want to know how we can get our point across? Isn’t it more important to skillfully amass facts, evidence, and logic in order to convince others of the rightness of our opinion?
Before I explain further the how of empathic responses, therefore, I want to explore some important reasons for learning empathy, the ability to put ourselves into the experience of another, the ability to look at the number above from the other person’s perspective. Why do we need empathy? We can see in the drawing that both parties look ridiculous. To avoid misunderstandings, to enhance communication, and to facilitate agreement, therefore, we need to learn empathy.
Doctors Need Empathy
Recently, one of my doctors reported that the medical profession is very interested in the issues of empathy right now. They want to learn how better to listen to their patients’ concerns. Your doctor needs to show empathy. That’s because you need empathy from your doctor. You will no doubt recall an incident when your doctor talked only diagnosis and treatment, with perhaps some history of your disease. He or she omitted any consideration of how your medical problem affected you as a person. They also never asked how hard it was to live with your condition. Or the time, when you had a complicated pregnancy and your doctor told you to go to bed! The impact of your plight eluded him or her. How would you manage your household (cooking, washing, cleaning for children and husband)–from bed? It seemed more comfortable to stay with medical facts, rather than talk with you.
Who Else Needs Empathy?
Why is empathy important for your boss? He has his expectations to accomplish the important task at hand. But he wants to steamroll your objections into the how you will impliment the new policies. He refuses to listen. He threatens you with firing if you persist. No empathy for you.
Your pastor needs to show empathy. If you come with a personal problem, but all he or she says is Bible verses or gives only instructions on prayer, you will leave frustrated. No empathy. Learning empathy is difficult. At least it was for me. In my previous post, I shared my early learning experience. That was not easy; I became painfully aware of my failure to cue in to the other person, and that I was preoccupied about how I perceived the lady’s depression. As a result, I minimized her suffering. This is a common error, at least for beginners. To read a valuable article on how to develop empathy, click here.
My Recent Failure
I still need to work on empathy. A friend started to share with me about his declining mental ability and even hinted at his eventual death. I changed the subject. So even an experienced and skilled person can allow someone else’s hurt, struggle, or grief, to make us feel uncomfortable (anxious) enough to avoid their tentative message. When we fail at empathy, we fail our friend. I failed my friend.
[Credits: Illustration: See It From My Side: DZone.com Article: https://dzone.com/articles/agile-transformation-for-non-it-teams]