What empathy is – and what not

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In the last article, I wrote about my motivation and why I want to go on a
bicycle trip, and why it is called Empathy Tour. I have also shared with you, why
I believe we all should have enough empathy for others.

Empathy alone is not a miracle cure, but many behavioural scientists claim
that it is one of the most important and underestimated abilities. In this
article, find out why, and step with me into the shoes of people who are
intensively involved with the subject.

Trust through empathy

Many people who want to bring something good into the world are outcasted, because
what they want to carry out is not the common sense1 at the moment. This leads to mistrust and allegations that create a gloomy social environment. Unfortunately, even the way we live as a society often doesn’t exactly contribute to our trying to understand each other and so throw blame as if it’s just a harmless pillow fight. But misunderstandings and cultural differences ultimately lead to real wars that cost human lives.

Can there not be someone, or something, that prevents them from harming
each other? Can empathy change that?

Empathy for everyone! Is this possible?

Is it ok then to have empathy with everyone? What about extremism,
perpetrators of violence, etc.? This is the subject of heated debates, especially
on social media. Opponents of this consideration say that there is not enough
time to discuss this over and over again, or that it cannot be tolerated. But
if there is not “the truth”, doesn’t that mean that a discussion
about right and wrong will never end and will be debated again and again?

Who do you think deserves empathy?

There is also an interesting and controversial debate about empathy gap2.
Is it even possible that all people can ever agree on a common denominator? Unlikely,
isn’t it?

But on the other hand, what do sweeping rejections lead to? Probably it
leads to even more mistrust, security cameras, new borders, high fences and
walls: More separation and general suspicion.

Is this a world worth living in, which we are building with it, or do we
not have to admit to ourselves somehow that we cannot protect ourselves from
every misfortune? We can, however, make an effort to understand those with whom
we disagree, even if that is probably the most difficult way.

Do you think right and wrong?

When I look at discussions (especially political ones), it seems that most
of the time it’s not about finding a solution, but about discussing until
someone claims his opinion to be the only right one. But does this lead to
sustainable solutions?

Imagine what your life could look like if everyone tried to understand all
your opinions before commenting on something or replying to you, why? Because
there is no such thing as the truth, and therefore no ultimate right and wrong.

That doesn’t mean that everything we feel to be wrong is suddenly right, or
the other way around. Instead, what is thought to be right or wrong is not
incontestable and thus subject to the constant change of human development. But
what does this have to do with empathy? Empathy can help to question the
personal points of view.

But there is also a downside for empathic people because it is often not
easy to put oneself in someone’s shoes without accepting the “truth”
of the other person without a filter, which can lead to very undesirable
consequences.

Through the Eyes of Empathic People

What’s empathy really about? From the perspective of a person with a lot of
empathy, many things fit together that other people with less empathy do not
see. It is also difficult for them to convey this because their perception is
based on different feelings, which are often difficult to describe.

People with pronounced empathy have an incredible ability in common. Naturally,
they do not cause a quarrel, but try to avoid it. However, this does not
necessarily mean that they avoid it.

Empathetic people with a lot of experience can miraculously end quarrels so
that everyone wins in the end. Sound utopic, I know, but is that why it is less
desirable?

Empathy sucks sometimes

So we just need empathy, and then everything’s better? It’s not that simple,
of course. It’s more complicated than you might think, particularly if you’ve
tended to agree with me so far and maybe that’s why you know the following:

Too much empathy can make life hell: For example, because you have little
the effect, you want to consider everything, you want to do please everyone, and in
the end, unfortunately, you don’t help anyone; maybe not even yourself.

If you want to put yourself in every person’s place, it can also lead to
paralysis. Perhaps your worst case could be, that you end up suddenly be
jealous because you are left behind and become too dependent on others.

Is it still worth the effort to have empathy?

Change through empathy

In my opinion, there is a lot of energy in empathy to ensure more equality
and peace. When I think about it, I often have the following thoughts:

Since our birth, we have had many opinions. We have acquired knowledge, but
we also lost knowledge. But how often do we question knowledge instead of
simply taking it in unfiltered?

A common opinion is that those who earn more money also do more valuable
work. But is that so? Perhaps people still verbally agree that it is often not,
but what shows up in action?

The “dirty work” should be done by others, and shouldn’t be paid too well, because
you don’t even need a lot of education. But that everyone could do something
doesn’t mean that everyone wants to do it, right? So do you really think it’s
ok to mistreat others, only because it’s their fault? Is it our right to blame
and shame?

Are different works with money at all weighable against each other?

Find the balance

I think you probably have your very own examples of an imbalance between
performance for activity and its financial reward. But why do many still stick
to a reward system when it has been scientifically proven several times that
reward systems are not decisive for performance? They are even counterproductive.
That leads me to the question:

What could a world actually look like, in which every person, no matter
what origin or profession, could have the same financial status? A beginning
could be that we could deviate from the belief that someone must earn something.

In his book “Utopia For Realists”, Rutger Bregman has
found interesting approaches to what could happen if one were at least to try
in this direction and mentioned the following positive aspects among others in
his book.

  • Space for uniqueness and individuality
  • Space for observation
  • Time for Regeneration, Art and Self-Realization
  • Open-hearted encounters
  • Through an empathic approach, the focus is not on the person, but on their concern
  • When people become advocates for empathy, there are no losers, and everyone feels better

Empathy and yet responsibility – through compassion and action

So empathy has many advantages but also its limits. That is the reason why
empathy alone does not help us.

For many people, being sympathetic for everything and everyone seems like
not having one’s own opinion. After all, it is not real action, but rather
comparable to thinking. It helps to be able to weigh a possibility before
action. Just thinking about something doesn’t mean that what you have thought
up will be implemented.

Time for a metaphor

Just staying in empathy mode would look like the following situation.

Suppose my shoe is uncomfortable because it pinches me. I tell that to a
shoemaker but he doesn’t look at the shoe at all and feels terrible about my
statement. He may even tell me that all shoes pinch and there is no shoe on
this planet that wouldn’t. That’s just the way it is, and there’s nothing you
can do about it.

On the other hand, a shoemaker who rejects the discomfort of a shoe
beforehand will not contribute to anything changing for the better. He can’t
even imagine that there’s anything wrong with a shoe. Ideally, then, there is the shoemaker who has both — understanding the
discomfort of the shoe and the ability to change it.

So let’s all be such “shoemakers” who not only realize that
something is wrong but also make sure that fewer shoes squeeze in society. Empathy is, therefore, a feeling that we can all feel and that this can lead
to good deeds, but also to the opposite. It should neither be underestimated
nor overestimated, so that good cooperation succeeds.

Let me know what it would be like to be in your shoes. What moves you? Tell me in the comments below what you want to change on this planet!

Related informations about the topic

Previous Post
Why would anyone get on a bike for empathy?
Next Post
A place to be – The Chellington Centre

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