“Self-absorption in all its forms kills empathy, let alone compassion. When we focus on ourselves, our world contracts as our problems and preoccupations loom large. But when we focus on others, our world expands. Our own problems drift to the periphery of the mind and so seem smaller, and we increase our capacity for connection – or compassionate action.”
My sister made me aware of this quote from Daniel Goleman about a week ago. It’s been stuck in my head every since.
The idea is so simply and beautifully expressed. When we focus solely on self, our world is so much smaller. In turn, our problems seem immense. However, if we take the time to consider those around us, we no longer feel the need to view our problems as so overwhelming. In addition, we can find ourselves being moved to take action on behalf of others.
Sometimes that can be hard to do. In a society where technology gives us so many ways to communicate and connect, we can actually find ourselves completely disconnected. I mean, sure, you might have a thousand followers on Twitter, and hundreds of Facebook friends, but how much do you truly interact with the people behind the handles? Aside from LOLing at their updates, “liking” their photos and posts, do you really communicate with them?
Just because technology has made it possible for you to know what I ate for breakfast today, it doesn’t mean we are connecting in a meaningful way.
“Empathy is more likely to occur between individuals whose interaction is more frequent. “
The word empathy originates from the Greek, meaning “feeling in”, with a root that means “to suffer”. I like the idea of “feeling in” someone, as if we were there with them, in their mind, seeing everything as they see it. We can’t “feel in” or suffer what others are unless we are having meaningful interaction.
How often do you ask someone how they are without listening to the answer? What percentage of conversations that we have are about us rather than the other participant?
If we take the time to connect with others around us, to really focus on what they have to say, we have the opportunity to show compassion. We have the chance to turn that feeling and emotion into a positive action. It may not be anything big. It might be as simple as giving a hug or kind word to a someone at the right time.
Whatever the action, we have to be paying attention to others for it to happen. We have to allow the sound of other voices be louder than the sound of our own.
So, today, take some time to really listen to what those around you are saying. Whether it be in person or on the interwebs, give others your full attention. You may be surprised at how your problems diminish, and how you may be part of the solution for someone else’s.