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In our world today, we come across different people from diverse cultures, languages and religion. One of the key elements that help us to live peaceably is understanding. In addition, the key to understanding is empathy and it is a behavioral skill needed by every individual. This article goes on to discuss empathy, lack of empathy signs, activities to build empathy. In addition, we’ll also look at ways to develop empathy, empathy vs sympathy and the importance of empathy.
Definition of Empathy
Empathy vs Sympathy
Sympathy usually refers to feelings or emotions. It is when one person shares the feelings of another. It is expressed when one experiences sadness when someone close is experiencing grief or loss.
Empathy, however, differs from sympathy as it has a greater emotional distance. It is generally, the imagination of the feelings of others which helps in understanding without necessarily sharing the feelings.
In addition, empathy and sympathy should not be used interchangeably in a text. However, we often encounter them in contexts where their difference is diminished. The difference in meaning should be explained with some variation. Sympathy is when you share the feelings of another whereas empathy is when you understand the feelings of another. But as in empathy you do not necessarily share them.
The nouns have a common root: the Greek word pathos, meaning “feelings, emotion, or passion.” Pathos itself refers to the show of pity or compassion in a work of art or literature.
Sympathy involves sharing
The common definition of sympathy in the dictionary is the act or capacity of entering into or sharing the feelings or interests of another.” When we hear of sympathy, we tend to think of situations involving emotional pain. For instance; when a friend is grieving over the loss of a loved one, you would want to visit and keep company for some time. This is to show that you feel the persons loss.
Empathy involves understanding
You have empathy for a person when you can imagine how they might feel based on what you know about that person, despite not having those feelings expressly communicated. Also, empathy can be shown in the familiar idiom “to put oneself in another’s shoes.”
In addition, another major difference between sympathy and empathy is how long each has been around. Therefore, compared to sympathy, which first appeared in English in the 16th century, empathy is a relatively new word coined from the already existing words.
Why is empathy important?
This is a trait necessary for building and maintaining great relationships in our workplace, families and the society at large. Individuals who feel empathy enjoy greater happiness and less stress. People lacking in empathy are said to be selfish and wicked. This can be a result of their inability to understand and relate to other peoples view. As a result, we have many failed relationships.
Without empathy, people tend to go about life without considering how other people feel or what they may be thinking. Each of us has differing perspective. We all experience moods, pain and hurt joy and sadness. Furthermore, we are so limited when we only see our own perspective. Without taking a moment to assess another, it is easy to make assumptions and jump to conclusions. Consequently, this often leads to bad feelings, conflict, poor morale, and even divorce. People do not feel heard or understood. Therefore, empathy is important as it enhances understanding and peaceful coexistence amongst ourselves.
Lack of empathy signs
Empathic persons are great listeners and often generous. They easily share their problems with people. In addition, they are emotional and often feel overwhelmed by tragic events.
However, lack of empathy means that the person seems distant, unconcerned and uninterested in the problems of others. This attitude is often harmful to those around them. Furthermore, we should identify these lack of empathy signs in individuals as it’ll help us relate better. Some of these lack of empathy signs include;
#1. They are usually not happy for others.
#2. They can’t control their emotions.
#3. They overreact.
#4. They have shallow emotions.
#5. They are not moved by emotional events.
#6. They have trouble in maintaining relationships.
#7. They trivialize emotional outbursts .
How to show empathy
#1. Be intentional.
#2. Put away distractions.
#3. Recognize your judgements.
#4. Don’t always try to solve the problems.
#5. Share your feelings and experience.
#6. Show gratitude that the person opened up.
#7. Be encouraging and show support.
#8. Be open to other peoples perspective.
#9. Encourage collaboration.
#10. Listen to your team.
#11.Prioritize employee wellness over goals.
#12. Always be thankful.
Ways to develop empathy
Oftentimes life experiences can help to teach us to be more empathic, as the saying goes that experience is the best teacher. Stephanie Thoma, a career coach said,
“Losing a job I relied on and self-identified with early on in my career gave me more compassion and empathy for those who are between jobs. I experienced depression, anxiety, and uncertainty that can come with a job loss. That experience gives my work of helping people bounce back that much more resonance and meaning.stephaniethoma.coM
However, we can also build our empathy by learning from the experience of the people around us. In addition, there are also various practices/ activities that can help to build our empathy.
Empathy, though a complex skill can be taught just like anything else. It is widely agreeable that the learning process is faster with kids than with adults. Consequently, it is important that kids are taught this skill while they are still young. It is vital that educators recognize that lack of empathy is a skill deficit and not a character problem.
In the words of Ross Greene, “Kids do well if they can”. Consequently, this implies that someone lacking in empathy can improve and be more empathic when taught appropriately. However, there are several ways to teach, emphasize and demonstrate skills for empathy. That is to say, these abilities can be learnt.
In addition, it is worthy to note that some learners are going to struggle with these skills more than others. Therefore, teaching this skill will involve a slow but steady process.
Empathy activities for kids in the US
#1. Building emotion vocabulary.
Here, the tutor can give some examples of words that show emotions. They discuss the meaning of the words together, relating them to empathy. Also, the children will then give more examples and note it down.
#2. Identifying and practicing of emotions.
This should be so much fun as possible. Firstly, the tutor calls out the students one after another and asks them to demonstrate different emotions. The rest of the student will now try to identify the emotions expressed. So, this will help the students to understand and interpret facial gestures, thereby developing their empathy skill. The kids should also try to identify lack of empathy signs through a play or drama.
#3. Practice active listening.
The instructor will read a text to the hearing of the students. The students will listen attentively and make a summary of what they have heard. In addition, the students can also be asked questions in between the reading exercise. This will enhance their listening ability hence improving empathic skill.
#4. Making paper collage
This is especially for the shy students that cannot express themselves in front of the classroom. The students will be given cards which they will use to make a paper collage. Thereafter, they will be matching picture showing different facial gesture to the corresponding emotion shown. They should be able to deduce the empathy signs shown in the cards.
Building empathetic adults
However, ways to develop empathy in adults may differ from the way to develop it in kids. Its not so easy to develop but with constant efforts we can achieve it.
#1. Building Friendships
Empathy dissolves when we see the world in terms of ‘us and them’. However, it recovers when it returns to ‘you and I’. In other words, enemies eventually become friends when we try to view the intent of their actions as friendly.
#2. Being Curious
This enables us to know ones intent or feeling, thereby understanding them and their lifestyle. We can achieve this by following people on social media with different backgrounds other than you.
We can also go beyond small talks like ‘how are you doing’ and ask about how peoples daily lives are like.
#3. Listen attentively
Putting away your phone and other distractions helps you to listen and notice facial expressions and gestures. So, these facial expressions and gestures are of great importance when trying to understand someone.
#4. Reading books
This is another great way of knowing about different lifestyles and culture. This will help us understand people more easily.
#5. Visiting other people’s places of worship, their families and community
This enhances positive interactions amongst individuals. It’s necessary because this is where their thoughts and beliefs will be built. As a result, it improves understanding of peoples perception and actions.
#6. Engaging in volunteer works in less privileged communities.
This helps one to be more empathic. It enables us to examine the privileges we have over others. So, this helps us to make a better judgement and develop our emotional response.
In conclusion, empathy is very important in our society and the importance cannot be overemphasized. Compassion may come naturally to you. That is to suggest that responding with it could be part of our biological make-up. However, we should as much as possible to improve on this skill as it adds great value to relationships.