Empathy is often confused with sympathy, and both mean similar things. While sympathy is feeling for someone’s situation after having been there yourself, empathy is putting yourself in the other person’s shoes. Empathy is the ability to feel what the other is feeling, even if you’ve never felt it yourself.
We as a modern society often judge others, and measure ourselves against other people perhaps more than we should. This is the crux of reality television. Millions of people sit in front of their various screens every night and mindlessly tune in to watch shows like Jersey Shore, Real Housewives, and the oh so wonderful Keeping Up With… you know who. We watch these train wrecks and feel better about ourselves because, “at least I’m not like…” The Germans call this Schadenfreude, which is taking pleasure in others misfortune.
I find that this judgmental attitude is highly counterproductive. There is nothing that takes me further away from the feeling of inner peace than judging other people. While it may seem justified in many cases, it pulls one away from the feeling of one-ness with the world. This causes separation, which in turn can lead to fear, isolation, anger, and suffering. Compassion is what brings people together. It produces the warm feeling of acceptance and love, which produces the feeling of security, and eventually, bliss through interconnectedness. Defeating the judge inside is often very difficult to do.
The Dalai Lama gave a speech in New York called Compassion in Emptiness. As of the time of this writing, it is on Netflix Streaming (that’s where I watched it, but you can probably find it in YouTube, or at Amazon, etc…). If you have that, I highly recommend watching it. He says that children need compassion and love from their parents. This makes them more secure in themselves and in the world. This sense of compassion and empathy need to be taught in schools in this new century. Self confidence, and a strong core can hedge against the uncertainty in the world.
Mindfulness practice can lead to this realization, and the practical aspects can take you a long way toward those ends. Empathy can open the door to compassion and can stop us from judging others. When we stop judging others and see where they are coming from, we have a much better handle to how to deal with problems and situations. This ability, coupled with self confidence, can move mountains and effect a very positive change in our world.
Dis-Bar The Judge
A quick technique to stop the judge is to recognize it appearing in your thoughts. The next time you look at someone and begin to judge them, catch yourself. Imagine that you are them. How do you feel?
You don’t need to make up a story about them, but try to understand what it is about them that you don’t like. Why don’t you like it? Do they offend you? Why?
When you go through this exercise and answer these questions, make a mental note of how it makes you feel. This is the first step in understanding and resolving the judge. Realize that it’s not the other person that is the problem, but YOUR reaction TO the other person that is causing your suffering. Only when you recognize the reasons why you begin to judge can you start to negate it’s power in your mind and heart.
Again, this is easier said than done. Don’t kill yourself over it. I think that the judge is one of the hardest things to deal with, and is endemic in our society. This is a dragon worth slaying though.
Darwin Had His Time and Place
Empathy and compassion are tough in a “Darwinian” inspired capitalistic competitive society, but I strongly believe that it is something we need to work on as individuals. The Dalai Lama believes that Western civilization is a beacon of hope. Our ethics and ideals are the lights of civilization. Barring the greed and corruption that nearly destroyed our economy, I agree with him. Inner work will lead to inner peace, and inner peace will lead to outer peace for the world.
What do you think?