In my mind, there are sort of two different connotations of this word, even though they are really the same thing. The first that probably comes to many people’s minds right off the bat is being sympathetic to those who are less fortunate than we are and doing what we can to help them out. That’s only part of it. The broader definition is to be able to put yourself in someone else’s shoes and see and feel things from their perspective and understand that what they are feeling, experiencing, and how they are seeing and interpreting things could be very different than you what are, good or bad.
Unfortunately, not everyone has the ability to do this. My husband is one of those people. If someone else in the family complains that something he is doing is bothering him or her, he thinks to himself that it wouldn’t bother him, therefore, it couldn’t possibly be bothering the other person or people and they must be making it up just to make his life difficult, to point out something he is doing wrong, or to prevent him from doing something he would like to do. I think part of the reason why he is not very good at picking out and giving gifts, doing kind gestures, showing appreciation, and other similar things is that he can’t or doesn’t think about how good those things would make the other person feel. Similarly, he doesn’t understand how his constant interrupting and talking over people makes them feel, either. This would apply to many other negative behaviors as well. Yet, he gets how it makes him feel when it happens to him.
I believe that’s why we have so many double standards in our house. He can’t seem to make the connection, so I have to draw the “big picture” for him. I have to spell things out and give him examples of how frustrated he gets when his boss or someone else constantly interrupts and talks over him and how frustrated and disrespected that makes him feel and then relate it to what he does. So this is a big part of why I consider him to be a “me” person, because he primarily thinks about how things will make him feel and makes choices based on that rather than factor in how other people will feel and react as well. I know several other people who don’t seem to have this skill either, and I have seen the negative consequences of that.
I have a few neighbors who think the town code stating you are not supposed to block the sidewalk while parked in your driveway is stupid. They can’t see how it is inconvenient for those walking themselves, their dogs, or their kids in strollers on the sidewalk, or that it makes it difficult for parents to tell their young kids to stay on the sidewalk while riding a bike or scooter. It seems to be the same neighbors who don’t understand the problem with hosting a party with loud music until all hours of the night. They are not empathetic to the rest of the neighbors who may be trying to sleep or get their kids to sleep. They are “me” people who do only what is convenient for them.
So, in my book, being able to be empathetic is a very important quality to have. Without empathy, you can’t be as compassionate, giving, understanding, patient, tolerant, forgiving, etc., all of which, in my opinion, are also very important qualities to have. I don’t know if some people are born being naturally more empathetic than others, but I do know it is something that can and should be taught starting at an early age. It’s hard to teach how to show empathy when you don’t practice it yourself, though. It’s one of those things I wish more people would be better at and more conscious about and then teach it to their kids as well.
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