Coming together through Empathy and Love
Coming out of the holidays has left me somber in my thoughts and in my heart. In the past, I was unknowingly self-absorbed in my own mission to make Christmas magical for everyone around me. It became a long list of making sure all of the people in my life felt loved and important. If I got all of the cookies for the neighbors made and delivered, all of the hand selected gifts dropped by friends houses, and the perfectly wrapped presents under the tree for my children, I rest assured knowing I had accomplished my Christmas goal. Although my intention was genuine and pure in heart, I look back and wonder how meaningful it truly was to the people on the receiving end. And how meaningful it truly was to me.
It has brought me to these two questions. Where is my mindset when I serve others? What is my mindset when I listen to someone struggling through a trial?
These two questions brought me to a beautiful passage. “Serve Him out of love, not obligation.” The best atmosphere and motivation for service is not out of duty, but love. This was a great reminder to me.
Love. It all comes down to Love. Just like one of my favorite Beatles songs sings… “All you need is love.”
This has really spoken to me lately. Maybe it is because my heart has been broken many times in my life. Maybe it is because having a broken heart has led me to so many other beautifully broken hearts along the way. Maybe it is because the ability to connect empathically with others—to feel with them, to care about their well-being, and to act with compassion—has been critical to my life in a giving as well as a receiving way. So I ask myself this additional question. How can I show love in a more meaningful way?
As I head into a New Year. I choose my word with care and intention. My word for 2023 is Empathy.
It’s hard to watch someone who is suffering. We may feel their pain or absorb their sorrow; we may worry that we won’t know what to do or say. Those uncomfortable moments might make us turn away from their distress—to preserve our own well-being or to carry on with our own lives. But empathy for others is crucial to the betterment of our society. The good news is… it's like a muscle. The more you practice it, the more empathetic you can become. Learning more about other perspectives, connecting with diverse groups of people, and trying to give others the benefit of the doubt can help you be more empathetic and increase your ability to love. Sometimes we don’t need to say anything at all, we just sit with others and let them know they aren’t alone.
Brene Brown is one of my favorite speakers and authors. She says that “Empathy is feeling with people.” She describes it perfectly in this short YouTube clip.
I like to use the acronym EMPATHY to understand how we can strengthen our empathy for ourselves and for others.
E: Eye contact. An appropriate level of eye contact makes people feel seen and improves effective communication. I recommend focusing on someone’s eyes at least long enough to detect the eye color, and making sure you are face to face when communicating.
M: Muscles in facial expressions. As humans, we often automatically mimic other people’s expressions without even realizing it. By being able to identify another’s feelings—often by distinctive facial muscle patterns—and mirroring them, we can help communicate empathy.
P: Posture. Sitting in a slumped position can indicate a lack of interest, dejection, or sadness; sitting upright signals respect and confidence. By understanding what postures communicate, we can take a more open posture—face forward, legs and arms uncrossed, leaning toward someone—to encourage more open communication and trust.
A: Affect (or emotions). Learning to identify what another is feeling and naming it can help us better understand their behavior or the message behind their words.
T: Tone. Because tone of voice conveys over 38 percent of the nonverbal emotional content of what a person communicates, it is a vital key to empathy. I suggest matching the volume and tone of the person you are talking to and, generally, using a soothing tone to make someone feel heard. However, when a person is communicating outrage, moderating your tone—rather than matching theirs—is more appropriate.
H: Hearing. Too often, we don’t truly listen to one another, possibly because of preconceptions or simply being too distracted and stressed. Empathic listening means asking questions that help people express what’s really going on and listening without judgment.
Y: Your response. I’m not talking about what you’ll say next, but how you resonate with the person you are talking to. Whether or not we’re aware of it, we tend to synch up emotionally with people, and how well we do it plays a role in how much we understand and like them.
Empathy is connecting with people so we know we're not alone when we're in struggle. Empathy is a way to connect to the emotion another person is experiencing; it doesn't require that we have experienced the same situation they are going through. It requires that we show up for them and stay present.
I am grateful for my friends and family that have stood by my side with empathy and unconditional love. I have learned a lot from you and I have been inspired and changed for the better because of it. Life can be very complicated. Can we learn to not judge others, but love others in their time of need?
I hope that as you choose your word and intention for the year, you do it thoughtfully and allow it to sprout from your heart. Our lives can be changed by our choices. Let’s choose wisely and intentionally and watch our lives unfold in beautiful ways.