The Age of Empathy
Self-absorption … kills empathy, let alone compassion. When we focus on ourselves, our world contracts as our problems and preoccupations loom large. When we focus on others, our world expands. Our problems drift to the periphery of the mind and seem smaller, and we increase our capacity for connection – or compassionate action. ~ Daniel Goleman
I’ve come to appreciate the profound gift of giving and receiving empathy, striving to understand and help each other.
This video by RSA Animates, and philosopher Roman Krznaric, got me thinking more about empathy. Roman’s perspective is that we are moving into a new era where empathy, and learning to experience life from others’ viewpoints, will allow us to revolutionize our human relationships, as well as social and political processes. The past century we’ve focused mainly on inner exploration as a way of learning about self. He suggests it’s time to move outward, exploring the views and values of others with empathy and curiosity.
This fits my personal experience of being tired of introspection and self-analysis. Yes, I’m more self-aware, but that hasn’t led to much action or created a life of meaning, joy or contribution as I crave to do. Similarly, my week of digital retreat didn’t bring any new insights, but conversations with friends did, including the realization that I need to be more connected. In case you missed it, here is my post on spontaneity that came from spending time connecting with friends.
And on the receiving end, when friends, family or fellow bloggers listen deeply and understand me, it’s like a breath of fresh air to my soul. I feel myself relax, no more defending or justifying. I am able to let go and be. Sometimes a wave of tingles or peace washes over me. I can assure you, being heard and understood are profound gifts to receive or give.
On a related note, we are hard wired to connect socially with one another. There is a growing body of research showing how our brains are designed to connect and thrive on social connection. I still need to remind myself to reach out to people and life. It is far too easy for me to pull back into myself and my world of introspection. I like time alone to reflect and recharge, but clearly I’ve taken it too far.
May 2016 be a year of reaching out, exploring, playing and connecting. I agree with Roman that it’s time for taking our relationships to the next level with empathy. I know my relationships will transform if I put more time and energy into listening, understanding and connecting other people.
Once we understand another, the next key piece is action to create change. From those connections built with empathy, we can create a life of meaning and contribution. But it requires action based on that understanding and connection.