Generally speaking, we experience empathy when someone is confiding in us. We offer our ears to ease pain or celebrate joy. Empathy may possibly be the gateway to understanding our internal connection. There have been times when a person I do not know shares their story in a video or in writing and I am moved to tears as I feel the emotion their testimony describes. This connection is not always blissful and joyous. Sharing love, grief, laughter (even yawns) has a power to deepen relationships.
Empathy may also connect you when you don’t ‘feel’ closeness with someone. For instance, that person who bumped into you at the grocery store and glared at you, your normally easy going partner who spoke harshly to you, your child who is shutting you out. This may sound odd that someone acting unpleasant can lead you to further understanding them or even experience closeness to them. It is not always easy and will require a tremendous amount of patience. The more you practice it, the easier it is to access.
I present you with an experiment:
The next time someone is ‘shitty’ to you, notice the feelings that arise in your body. Notice the initial reaction you have. You have every right to be treated with respect and leave/change a situation when not being treated so. However, I invite you to consider the feelings that arise as empathy for the other person involved. Perhaps that undesirable feeling someone brought out in you -irritability, anger, dread, sadness- is insight to the other persons emotional wellbeing. You may be feeling what they are feeling. You may not know the person in the grocery store who gave you the stink eye AND I urge you to give them the benefit of the doubt. People truly are good. As you acknowledge this human and their experience, the undesirable feeling may dissipate and make space for tenderness. There will often be no need to offer words of compassion, it is possible that your silence and kind face will influence the quality of thoughts in the other individual. And when it doesn’t, when they don’t notice or your kindness has infuriated them, you have still saved yourself from carrying that poisonous feeling in you.
As we deepen our understanding of ourselves + appreciate the affinity between us, we also refine our compassion for one another.