Empathy as an Act of Kindness

Jeremy Jonathan Garcia

Intern

When we start examining people and trying to understand their point of view, it often becomes abundantly clear how they came to make the decisions or hold the beliefs that they do.

Empathy is the ability to emotionally feel what other people are feeling, see things from their point of view, and put yourself in their shoes. This is very similar to the concept of sympathy, but there are some significant differences. Sympathy, derived from the Greek words sym and pathos, means to share another’s feelings. This is seen when people share an experience in which they feel the same emotions, such as when grieving for someone close to both of you. Empathy, on the other hand, does not require a shared or similar experience; rather, it is the ability to understand the perspective of another, even if you have never lived their experience.

Photo by Alex Green

Empathy has several benefits. With empathy, you become  better at  understanding of the needs of those around you and the motivations behind their actions. This eventually leads to a second benefit: empathy helps us in controlling our anger toward other people. When we start examining people and trying to understand their point of view, it often becomes abundantly clear how they came to make the decisions or hold the beliefs that they do. Empathy, for example, would lead you to realize that, rather than being angry with someone who is mean to everyone, they may have had a difficult childhood and, as a result, act in this manner. This would often transform your rage into compassion for them. Helping friends work through their emotions, on the other hand, can be a great way to use empathy. Some people simply need someone to listen to them without offering a solution. It may be more beneficial to express empathy for someone’s situation rather than offer solutions.

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Then, how do you approach people with empathy? There are a few things you should keep in mind when attempting to respond to someone with empathy. The first is reflecting, which entails listening intently to what the other person is saying while precisely summarizing it in your own words. A second way to demonstrate empathy is an empathetic response or a statement that demonstrates your understanding of what leads them to feel how they currently do. Last but not least, you must name or identify the emotions that you are seeing in them. Here’s an illustration of an empathic response to someone.

Friend: I am sad that I can’t go to the party since my parents won’t allow me to go.
You: It sounds like you were really excited to go to the party but your parents won’t let you. (reflecting). That must be difficult (empathetic response). You must be feeling really disappointed (emotion identification).
This is a simple framework that you can use to practice being more empathetic with others. 

It may be a simple and small gesture, but showing empathy to another person is an act of kindness that will be greatly appreciated. It’s a skill that can be learned, so when you are able to try to practice this framework at least once with a loved one or even a hypothetical situation.

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Empathy as an Act of Kindness

When we start examining people and trying to understand their point of view, it often becomes abundantly clear how they came to make the decisions or hold the beliefs that they do.

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