Beginning as children, we are often told the importance of empathy. We are taught not to push other kids on the playground, or take their toys because “how would you like it if they did that to you?” This is usually our first brush with the concept that other people have feelings, just like us. They can feel hurt and they can feel happy and they can feel all the things in between, just like us. We might even become aware of the power we have over people, to make others feel a certain way, and how important it is to use that power to help people and not hurt them.
Empathy never loses importance as we grow up. If anything, it becomes essential to function as a mature adult. Through empathy, we are able to respond appropriately to situations, we are able to build relationships, we’re able to make the people around us feel seen, heard and understood. The ability to put yourself in someone else’s shoes grows your compassion and helps center your sense of what’s right and wrong.
I remember going to the funeral of a young person I knew and talking to his parents. He had died in a car crash at 16, and I was his youth pastor, so I had known him well. But I didn’t understand the pain that his parents were going through. I was twenty-two and felt disconnected. I didn’t know what to say to them. So, I just decided to try to put myself in their shoes, to take the time to talk with them, ask questions and listen. I practised empathy.
How we can grow in empathy:
You can grow in empathy by taking time in conversation to ask open-ended and thoughtful questions about what the people around you are experiencing. Then take time to listen. Rather than just being polite and curious, be deliberate in pursuing an understanding of a particular situation, and particular emotional responses they are experiencing.
There are many questions you can ask yourself to grow your empathy when you encounter someone going through an ordeal: what’s happening to them? How do they feel? You may never know exactly what they are going through but taking the time to reflect on how you can support them, and letting yourself feel some of their pain, can go a long way.
Another way to grow is to ask God for support to help understand the people in pain around us. Afterall, He is the most empathetic one … he quite literally put himself in our shoes, when Jesus came to live among us. Here in the season of Christmas, we can feel especially appreciative of God’s choice to send his son to us; he empathized with us, he wanted to understand us and he made the ultimate sacrifice to do so.
Hope you have a the best Christmas.