Freedom Lovin

How to change your universe with empathy

I go through many days thinking terrible things about random people I see out and about.

There’s no rhyme or reason for this.

I don’t know these people.

It’s the old guy walking slowly right in front of me and holding me up. What’s his problem?
It’s the woman who’s yelling at her kids. Can’t she control herself?
It’s the guy in front of me at the green light who’s not moving. COME ON IDIOT, WAKE UP!
It’s the pretty girl who I’ve already envisioned getting turned down by. How dare she? Who does she think she is!

Maybe?

All this leads to a daily life of negativity. I try to stay positive, read positive things, and start my day with listening to audios about how to be more happy, and write down things I’m grateful for. All of this helps, but my default position has been to tear people down in my head, without any knowledge of what their life is like.

But I have found the cure, and it helps in ALL areas of life.

em·pa·thy
noun
1. the ability to understand and share the feelings of another.

It’s far more helpful, and healthy, to assume the best in people. Why not? Who cares if you’re wrong?

Just turn it around:

“That guy that flipped me off probably just got fired from his job and he’s hurting.”
“The lady at the DMV has probably had a really tough life and deals with angry people all day long. When was the last time she received a random compliment?”
“The girl that ignored me when I said hi just got dumped by her boyfriend and was in a bad mood.”

Turn things around!

Empathy helps in everyday situations to brighten your mood. It also helps in relationships, business, friendships, dating, and overall happiness levels.

Here are some benefits I have found with empathy:

1. By cultivating empathy for others, you raise your empathy for yourself. No more beating yourself up. No more negative assumptions. Just live in the now and assume the best.

2. You lose grudges. I don’t let things linger like I used to. I may not agree with someone. I may not become great friends with them. But that doesn’t mean I can’t have empathy. For example, I used to get into political debates, thinking I could change someone’s mind. What a waste of time! In my head I would think “This person is WRONG and I need to show them WHY THEY ARE WRONG!” Yeah that worked out great! Typically, we would both leave the conversation feeling upset and of course, they would be even more convinced they are right! So I accomplished exactly zero, and brought myself down in the process. Now I can just keep in mind that they came to their conclusions based on the knowledge they have. My pleas to change them do nothing, so I can state my position but not be attached to any result- and understand that they are not a horrible person because they don’t agree with me!

3. You feel more at peace. Duh. Going around hating everyone for the car they are driving or the jeans they are wearing is draining.

4. You’ll be better at debating. Maybe even a master debater? It’s easier to debate with people when you can understand their feelings.

5. You will get more dates (if you’re looking for them). The hard core opinionated feminist woman is not “an evil bitch” when you give her empathy. Deep down, she’s nice. I guarantee it!

6. You will make more money. In a job, negotiating becomes easier. In a business, you will make more contacts and understand your customers that much better.

7. You will default to a positive outlook. This has taken me a while. How can you be positive when the economy is so bad? Babies are getting killed by bombs in the middle east? Idiots are ruling over us? Freedoms are being destroyed! The list can go on and on and there are always ways to dwell on all the crappy things going on in the world. But, this is pointless. Most people are trying to do the right thing. Most people want to help. The “power of positive thinking” may not work, but empathy does.

5 comments
JohnLindquist
JohnLindquist

False advertising, Kevin!  I only clicked on this post because you used the thumbnail of the blonde who cant find her bra.  God bless her.    Then I scroll down to read that you've gone to the dark side and are having empathy for the minions of the DMV's car tax scam?    Boo. 

I kid, I kid!   I actually enjoyed reading this post. However, I have to say I'm still skeptical. I think I understand what you are getting at, but as you said that  there was no rhyme or reason for all this mental negativity you were bouncing around in your head, aren't the examples you gave really just a swing of the pendulum in the other direction... optimistic projections?  Which also have no rhyme or reason to them? 

Is it not true that in actuality we have no basis of knowing the motivations of others evincing the behavior we find objectionable or annoying?   We can always *imagine* a variety of possible explanations, some of which may align more closely with what we perceive our own experiences to be, but we don't have any way of knowing that those explanations are actually correct.  I think in many practical applications of this kind of empathy, because it isn't based on an exchange of information, it would more likely be a concoction of the imagination rather than a perception of reality. 

I totally get where you're coming from though. I have those negative thoughts in my mind too.

You see what I did there?     Now, is it because I'm an argumentative asshole, or did I just have a bad day?  

Damn...I can't stop. 


freedomlovin
freedomlovin moderator

@JohnLindquist Since you didn't pay me for the full argument, I'll give you half an argument! We can't know exactly what people's motivations are, but everything they are expressing is trying to meet some need, and we all have the same needs as humans. So, let's take a conflict. Someone says to you "You're an uncaring narcissistic asshole because you're against taxes!" You could take this and hit him right back by calling him another name.

But how does this help anyone or resolve anything? He calls you an asshole and you call him a dickhead, and everyone leaves angry.

An empathetic approach would be to first, step back for a second. This guy is expressing some anger from something in his past, not you. We know this because you didn't physically threaten him, it was just some words, but you can still connect with him as a human despite his expression of anger. 

So after taking a step back and not taking it personally (not the easiest thing), you could ask him "It sounds like you're feeling angry because you see my position as harmful to others, and you value helping people?" Then he might feel heard and understood, if not, he will correct you and you can have a conversation from there instead of an unproductive argument.

So it's more than just a concoction of imagination or "the power of positve thinking".  It's actually getting to the root of emotions rather than just knee-jerk reacting to them.

Unless you paid him to argue. Then you should ask for a refund! :)

JohnLindquist
JohnLindquist

@freedomlovin@JohnLindquist

Ah, so it seems to me that you've clarified that you cannot *truly* apply empathy randomly to strangers, as it requires a conversation and exchange of information to be accurate.   It appears to rely on a meaningful and substantial dialogue, that includes an honest disclosure of the empathy target's actual beliefs and experiences and possibly the emotions attached to those things.  Thus it seems to me that empathy's utility is in its ability to serve as a strategic tool rather than a general outlook or philosophy. 

Also, not to keep arguing past my time limit, but I don't agree that we all have the same needs as humans or that what people express is just trying to meet one of those needs. Sure, at some very basic level of physical or emotional "wants and needs" as Maslow has defined it, we are all very similar.  However, that's just kind of the surface stuff; we may never be able to know why some people do the things they do or say the things they say or have the beliefs that they hold, and there might not be a rational explanation for their expressions or behavior. There are people that are beyond comprehension or are so difficult to communicate with that no meaningful dialogue or exchange of reliable information is possible. 

From a philosophical perspective it seems this is a bit of a logic trap.  I'm not even sure what empathy really means or if we are using the term properly, now that I have looked into it. I checked Wikipedia and discovered it has conflicting definitions: "Empathy is the ability to mutually experience the thoughts, emotions, and direct experience of others."

Yet another Wikipedia entry states "Empathy is the capacity to recognize emotions that are being experienced by another sentient or fictional being."

These are two completely different things. 

If you use the first definition, you'd have to invent a faculty that doesn't exist, but I imagine it would be akin to the abilities of the "empath" Counselor Troi on Star Trek: Next Generation.   The second definition seems a little bit more within the realm of human ability although I'm not too sure about the fictional part.  Again, that would seem to involve projection since if the empathy target is fictional then it doesn't actually exist.  Its just a concoction of the imagination and exists only in the mind of the subject being asked to be empathic. 

Wow...philosophy is exhausting. I need a nap.  

 

 



glamtriathlete
glamtriathlete

It's all about perspective, Kevin. You've got to change your take on things to understand what is happening and why you feel the way you do. In my circle, we have a saying, "If it pisses you off, check yourself." Normally, when you get royally pissed off about something, it's because it may be something we in-conscientiously do. 

It's what you make of it that counts. 

As for dating, I only get asked out by married men or men who are 15 years younger. So we are all in the same boat. Keep that chin up.

Freedom Lovin