Limits, Techniques &
Although empathy is the glue of society, it's only a short journey we take,
an out-of-body experience we have for
pleasure or necessity, by the end of which we may get lost, exhausted, bored, or
sad for returning home to our "self" too soon, after having seen what we wanted
Empathy has limits once you reach you experience the
- You don't enjoy it.
- It gets boring after having seen enough, or you feel disappointed if it's less than you
- It becomes really depressing if you really empathize
with someone who has a really big problem. In such case, both of
you may become blinded by the problem, needing help from a
third party who is "less empathetic" to look at the problem from outside, which is
equally helpful when making a judgment along with looking from inside.
- You can't cope with it. You can't be in another person's shoes for a long time, as you don't have
the same survival strategies they use for handling their own
- You can't think. You can never make a fully sound judgment of
another person's life, since you can never get the whole picture
they see or live the life they live.
- You feel insecure. Your insecurity increases as you leave your
real "self" unprotected for a long time that you must return to quickly.
- You don't need it. It's difficult to empathize with someone you
don't need in the first place, whom you cannot benefit from or enjoy with. It's rightful to feel so as you have no obligation in life but
to yourself (and those running in your "orbit"). However, because you never know when you may
come across an outsider you may need
someday, you should empathize in advance by learning: LEARN about other
people's lives, even those you don't live with now. You may live with them
someday, or live like them someday, but definitely you will be one with
them someday: all people become equal
eventually, at the grave, as they share different lives
and one death.
1. Understand Others
- Imagine how it feels to be someone else. Intentionally forget who you are,
and relax, so you can have more space in your head for other people. A tense
mind can't imagine, argue or empathize. In an intense argument, you have to be
calm, whether you want to win the argument or simply want to learn from it
(convince/be convinced). Also, use imagination in case other people aren't
empathetic with you, asking yourself, "Why can't they imagine being me?" Try to
see "you" with their eyes.
- Remember that there are things in life each of us is born with that cannot
be changed; so everyone has no choice but to accept whatever they have and
make the best of it. Everyone thinks: "This is my only chance to live, and it
will never be otherwise, from birth to death." You too realize you are a
life-time "prisoner" of your body, as other people are; so you could've been
born with different genes, health, abilities/disabilities,
intelligence, character, etc.
- You might have also been born in a different environment, dealing with different people, speaking a different language, living on
different/more/less resources, etc.
- Even more challenging sometimes is accident: everything
can suddenly change when you least expect it, yet you must cope with
- Focus on your similarities together. Always remember those
similarities, thinking of, talking
about, and founding your cooperation together upon. Meanwhile, think of
your differences with curiosity, until you find such differences no longer
curious, and such people not so different from you, by realizing you could be
like them under different circumstances. Benefit from your differences (as
a useful form of diversity), whether they eventually melt away or not. Be
positive and practical, making use
of whatever/whomever you have.
- Learn about other people's lives, from books, media, conversations,
and your own free thinking.
- Listen to other people. They know better about their lives.
- Respect each one's role in life and express that respect. You can't
empathize with someone you consider unimportant in society.
- Role-Play! Like a good actor, imitate other people: temporarily adopt their lifestyle, social
class, culture, habits, clothes, ideas, IQ, vocabulary, intonation, posture, stride ... and
life, if possible. It's important to fully experience
life with another person's eyes and self. Play your role shortly but
masterfully, like a professional actor. (In fact empathy is what acting is about). Do
so especially when you are not with those you impersonate. When together, and
always, cherish your real self (your lifelong companion).
- Enjoy together. Happiness is what connects all humans/animals,
that any differences can temporarily melt away while we share a simple
pleasure, reminding us of life's primary goal. Even with one's adversaries,
one can still share a meal, game, music, nature view, casual conversation, etc.
Pleasure endorphins make us less tense & aggressive, and more lucid, imaginative & empathetic. It breaks the ice of social discomfort, mistrust,
boredom, etc. For example, laughter is an easy, fast pleasure
to share, in the most serious contexts, where an unexpected funny
word/movement/etc. can change mood instantly and dramatically. We usually get
so tense and serious about life, forgetting that life itself doesn't treat us
that seriously, having many contradictions, absurdities, and ironies, that we
can recall and enjoy.
- Share others' suffering, temporarily.
Whatever the class/group they belong to, you can diversify your empathetic
experience by temporarily LIVING WITH the poor, handicapped, bereaved, ill, unintelligent; children, youth, elders, men, women, minorities, outcasts, animals,
etc. It's harder to feel pain than imagine it, because we are
genetically programmed to feel & remember pleasure most. Stress hormones
have less effect on our brain's memory center, making us easily forget our
painful experiences (and those of others). Nothing like problems/disaster
times can bond people together (not that you have to cause them).
- Work together. Share the different stages of a job together,
preferably one that has an immediate reward, so that you get all three
benefits of sharing others' "thinking, suffering, and enjoying" together, by
doing what others spend most of their time doing.
- Sympathize. Follow instinctive empathy, sometimes. Sympathy is triggered by touching, hugging,
handshaking, eye contact, physical closeness ... esp. with those with a familiar face, voice, smell, etc. However, don't
overuse sympathy, whose "chemistry" is temporary, volatile, and biased,
compared to empathy which is derived from reason.
- GIVE when you can. Share your possessions! In all the above you
share, more or less, some of your time, but not your possessions. Giving is by
far the biggest test of empathy, although giving itself doesn't necessarily
reflect empathy: it could be triggered by fear, duty, showiness, recklessness,
or an emotional urge. Giving is like investing; it's best when you know where
you invest and the profit you gain. It's not a shame to give out of "mutual
interest" or "give-and-take" which is the governing principle of all
relationships, between humans, animals, or non-living objects, from electrons to galaxies.
- Avoid any unnecessary, prolonged, untimely, or harmful empathy you are
unready for. ESCAPE by leaving, keeping silent, or doing, thinking of, or discussing something
else. Empathy should be temporary, voluntary, and enjoyable, or at least bearable.
If it's not, DO NOT empathize, else it will have a negative effect on you and
those you empathize with. Avoid people when they are
not ready for you, or you for them, each needing their own space.
Empathy is not about "loving or living with" other people; it's just
about understanding them. You needn't share a lion his lair or develop
friendship together; rather you only need to know how it feels to be a lion,
especially when there is one nearby.
- Cooperation becomes easier, understanding each other' point of
view, needs, likes, dislikes ... Empathy is the glue of society.
- Enjoying other people's pleasures, when they are happy.
- Diversion from one's own life, by getting out of oneself and empathizing with anyone, sad or happy.
- Gratitude when empathizing with someone with more or bigger problems.
- Pride when empathizing with someone with less or smaller problems:
feeling proud of your strength to live with your more challenging problems.
- about other people's lives;
- about you, when you see yourself with other people's eyes;
- about different survival strategies and future problems you may face, or
will inevitably face.
- Social pleasures become more natural, easily enjoyed without
pretension. Empathy eases sympathy, and vice versa. Social pleasures, although
instinctive, can relatively bond people together, motivating cooperation between them,
more than being motivated only by mutual interests, ideas,
empathetic words, or mere jealousy.
- We become emotionally relieved of many negative feelings (hatred, repulsion,
contempt, apathy, etc.) aching and harming us, toward people we couldn't understand before.
Through empathy we learn about other people's motives, and even love those we don't agree with.
Empathy precedes love. Unfortunately, many simplistic beliefs encourage people to love one
another, unconditionally, without knowing, meeting, or even
imagining one another first (to develop some empathy ). They fully trust humans'
social instinct, which equally leads to bias and barbarism. Putting such
simplicity into practice is mostly useless, and occasionally disastrous.
- Finally, we feel secure when we understand our enemy's limits and
boundaries, that we will be careful not to cross or let them cross. (As long
as they cannot be friends).
* * *
Learning to empathize correctly makes a big difference in the world.
Applying the simple "golden rule," by practicing compassion, respecting others' rights, etc. makes life easier. Look around you, and you will see many poor people
dying everyday, for not affording to go to hospital, have a
surgery, buy a medicine, protect themselves against danger, etc. You will also see many rich people spending fortunes on trips, parties, cars, houses,
furniture, looks, etc. (they are really bored). Even those in the middle (class) that form the majority in any civilized society, who live a relatively comfortable life, wouldn't
abandon "some" of their money to save somebody else's life, as they claim,
"We put it aside for later use." Most do it without the slightest guilt.
If there was more empathy in the world, just more imagination, life would be
much better on this planet, where those miscommunication problems can be
solved: in education, work, health, finance, security, personal rights, etc.; and the bigger problems of crimes, wars, epidemics, nature anger, etc.
To rely on "sympathy" only, no real solution will ever be found. Conversation at a meeting, around a dinner table, at a wine bar ... does
little as to finding real solutions to other people's problems, or ours. At best,
talking and socializing help us make new contacts, advertise for a business, get
people excited, touched or sympathetic, just moved "inside."
Meanwhile, we find those we "naturally" sympathize with most,
are but temporary pleasure-mates, soon to be replaced or got rid of when a real test
is faced. Still, many will sympathize more and empathize less: trusting their heart,
going with the flow, following their instinct, nature, traditions ... or just following
the herd, and repeating the same pattern, without learning why they repeat it.
Addiction to People