The Importance of Empathy
Sixty years ago, there was a twelve year-old girl named Marjorie. She went to the New York State Fair and found an interesting booth called the Parker Pen Pavilion where she could enter a personality profile to be matched up with a Pen Pal across the world. She was matched up with Sally in England. They wrote each other, and became great friends simply through words scrawled with paper and ink. When she was seventeen, Marjorie traveled to England to meet Sally, their friendship transcending from the written word. They were friends for five years before even seeing each other’s face, and are still close to this day.
Today, we can meet someone new with the click of a button. The online world of learning and personalized education has opened up a whole new universe for students who want to learn and expand their own cultural horizons. Because the world is now online, new experiences, cultures, and customs are readily available for us to explore. However, it is more challenging to be as open to new experiences when viewing them through a screen as when you’re physically experiencing them. This is why today, more than ever, the practice of empathy is more important than ever before for students growing up in an online world.
So how can we cultivate the skill of empathy? LifeHacker has some tips:
Be observant of others. Instead of judging or categorizing someone, ask yourself how they’re feeling, or what kind of day they’re having. “Curiosity about others is the first step to expanding your empathy.”
Use active listening. We often start to think up our response while someone is still talking, to avoid that awkward silence. Unfortunately, this means we usually aren’t totally listening to what the other person is saying. Slowing down and focusing in on the speaker activates empathic tendencies, as it encourages us to care about the other’s well-being enough to give them our full attention. (Sidebar: this is also a great technique for job interviews. Most employers care less about how fast your response is than how well you understand their core message and are able to thoughtfully respond.) Ask follow-up questions and be curious about how their past may have affected their world view.
Open up. Empathy is not only about being curious and open toward others, it is also about allowing ourselves to be vulnerable in opening up ourselves. It’s unfair to ask others to share in an authentic way if we are unwilling to do the same.
Essentially, empathy is all about being curious, the way we are as children. Try starting your sentences with “I wonder…” or “I’m curious...” Often, what we assume someone else is thinking or feeling is actually more a reflection of our own past experiences than theirs.
When was a time when you wish someone would have acted more empathically toward you?