By: van Orsouw 14-10-2021
10 tips to increase your empathy
The vast majority of us have biases about others. We tend to think in stereotypes and make judgments based on first impressions when we barely know anything about the other person. This makes it difficult to appreciate their humanity or the personal stories behind their circumstances. Take, for example, the idea that truck drivers are "undeveloped," or that you take people who speak dialect less seriously.
Another barrier is the tendency to obey authority. 'I only follow orders' is a common excuse by people who have been guilty of massacres, genocide, and other misdeeds. We too easily do what we are ordered to do, no matter what it entails and without remorse of conscience, as long as we think the order comes from a lawful authority. This is not innate but to a large extent contextual and cultural. We learn it at an early age from our parents and teachers and grow up thinking that we are obligated to "obey the law" and "follow the rules. Our tip: keep thinking, and have the will and ability to defy authority when empathetic action demands it.
Both spatial distance and distance in the time limit the spread of empathy. We find it difficult to care about people we do not know, whose lives are far away, with whom we are not familiar, or who will not be born until the distant future. We face the challenge of reducing this distance by empathizing in our imaginations with those who are distant from us in time and space.
We live in a culture of denial: we know about atrocities and suffering, but put it away and do nothing. The information we receive is too disturbing, threatening, or abnormal to fully absorb or openly acknowledge. Perhaps we feel too much shame or guilt. Try to change that by being aware that we seek refuge in denial and instead feel moral responsibility.
Tip: dwell on people who relate to what you do on a daily basis. For example, an exercise from Buddhism is to imagine for a day every person who is related to what you do every day. For example, in the morning when you get up, think of those who sowed, picked, and spun the cotton of your sheets, and those who gathered, processed and exported the beans for your morning coffee. You enjoy their product so you bear responsibility for them, especially if they have worked in poor conditions. Realize the role they play in your daily life
5: Be a good listener
Highly empathetic people are good listeners. Do not be afraid to bring up a sensitive subject, but do it in the right way. For example, by making yourself vulnerable and by being open about your own experiences and feelings. This turns a conversation into a real two-way dialogue. Leave your own judgments, advice, and ideas for what they are, and instead ask questions when you don't understand something. By asking questions you also prevent filling in things for someone else. In short, be genuinely curious.
6: Play character games
Another way to excite your empathy is to play character games. Suppose you're at a convention and meet a seemingly emotionless, tough businessman - a person with whom you initially have nothing. The game is simply to imagine him in a different, more human guise. For example, when he is playing hide-and-seek with his three-year-old son or singing a song to cheer up his elderly mother.
7: Be critical of your own assumptions
Ask yourself some sharp questions about the assumptions you hold about others. The purpose of this is to increase your self-awareness and determine what prejudices are hiding in your mind:
Bringing to light that we are wrong is one of the fastest forms of empathic education.
8: Treat others the way they want you to treat them
In the introduction to this article, we already touched upon the golden rule: 'treat others as you would want to be treated by them'. This is a fine principle if our emotional lives and experiences coincide with those of other people, but the moment you have a different worldview and cultural background, the golden rule fails. The result can be that we treat people in ways that we ourselves think are appropriate, but from their perspective are not at all. Therefore, it is better to turn to the platinum rule: "Treat others as they would like you to treat them.
9: Understand what you don't share with another person
We should not simply assume that others share our moral codes, preferences, and interpretations of the world. This is why high-empathy people do not simply seek to discover what they share with others, but also actively seek to understand what they do not share. And to gain an understanding of another's worldview without agreeing with another's beliefs and principles. This gets to the heart of making the imaginative leap into another's mind. In the book Empathy, Roman Krznaric mentions several ways to do this:
You can physically immerse yourself in another's situation by seeking out the same physical conditions. For example, empathize with someone in a wheelchair by spending some time in a wheelchair yourself. Or go to a museum where you experience what it is like to go through life as blind or visually impaired. Other ideas include participating in fundraisers for the homeless where you live outside on the street for a night. Or try to live on minimum wage or the equivalent of unemployment benefits for a month.
Establish yourself as an anthropologist exploring lives and cultures and observing how they differ from our own. Krznaric calls this "undertaking empathic journeys. Engage in conversation with people you meet on your travels, be curious, and ask about things you don't yet know or understand.
Connect empathically with others by cooperating with them. For example, find a (volunteer) project, think of teaching English to children, or organizing outings for people with disabilities. In this way, you work with others, share experiences, and broaden your worldview.
10: Never forget to laugh
Being more empathetic and understanding of each other makes the world a much nicer place. Use these tips to be more open to people who are different from you, be aware of what empathy is and how empathy expresses itself, and use it to improve relationships with those around you. Then the fun will come naturally!