Remember either telling a story or listening to someone recount their experience… and finally, it all ends with “Well, you just had to BE there!“? We can all IMAGINE something, but to genuinely “feel” what someone may be experiencing, is a horse of a COMPLETELY different color! See, true empathy can be a tricky thing.
Sure, among all the other “unrelated” stuff I’ve studied, teachers and mentors have touched on subject of empathy. But until I began working on this, I had absolutely NO IDEA an entire field of study focuses exclusively on li’l ol’ “empathy!” Who KNEW?!? Yep – and it even includes multiple TYPES of empathy.
Recently, I saw an insightful quote on social media:
It PERFECTLY illustrates something I came to appreciate during my years as a teacher: “Gardner’s Theory of Multiple Intelligences.” This now widely-accepted theory suggests our traditional notions of intelligence, based on I.Q. testing, are far too limited and fail to account for our diverse gifts.
“Since we have gifts that differ according to the grace given to us, each of us is to exercise them accordingly: if prophecy, according to the proportion of his faith...” (Romans 12:6)
And, familiar as I was with Gardner’s nine different – and measurable – “intelligences,” it still caught me by surprise to discover this whole field devoted just to the various facets of those more “emotion-based” IQs. But, it shouldn’t have…
The whole idea of “Emotional Intelligence” has taken center stage, with more and more employers clamoring for “soft skills” in their workplaces. Some even administer TESTS to measure “EQ” in prospective employees! Bottom line: empathy has become a major player in the marketplace.
The “Father” of this “empathy exploration” – Carl Rogers – summed up his views on this concept quite nicely: “…deep understanding is, I believe, the most precious gift one can give to another.”
In addition to defining the vast range of emotional states involving empathy, he specifically identified several specific types – including cognitive, emotional and somatic empathy!
Which leads us to the bottom line for this truly intriguing idea – apparently, empathy can not only be measured, but TAUGHT! Say, WHAT?? Indeed… as one scholar of Rogers’ work pointed out:
“Empathy, is the ability to enter – by a WILLED use of the imagination – another person’s world… without judgment. It’s important to realize empathy does NOT automatically mean ‘agreement.’ Empathy means understanding another person’s feeling without passing any judgment on the appropriateness of the feeling.” ~
Yes… our ability to actually walk, emotionally, in another’s shoes, can be a conscious CHOICE! And – even cooler – this choice is not limited to individuals. Families can choose to up their empathy game. Entire neighborhoods and communities can adopt more compassionate and benevolent attitudes. Even corporate America seems to be purposely choosing empathy.
Certainly their creative teams have emphasized the importance of appealing to their target customers’ emotions. Touching the heart, making someone feel the situation, can evoke POWERFUL responses. And, if those responses can be directed toward something “greater” than just ourselves, even better!
And yes, of course, they also continue to market their product or service. However, instead of appealing to the “gimme” motivation, they have recognized the value of tapping into the literal “kinder, gentler” nature of our feelings toward others.
“Feelings” Can Be BIG Business!
The first instance I saw this season, was the Walgreen’s “Thanks for Giving” campaign and it made me think… AND pay attention. Once I began to notice this intentionally, it seemed an empathetic floodgate had opened! Sure, you DO have to make a purchase – and let me be the first to advise against emotionally-motivated impulses. But, for those considering an annual flu shot or already in the market for a new car, THIS charitably-focused initiative could be the little push to visit Walgreen’s or shop Subaru… and these particular examples are just the TIP of the “empathy iceberg!”
The media has jumped on this “EQ” bandwagon, too. One primetime network show features a main character developed exclusively around the idea of TEACHING others to “feel!” Even “Ellen” has partnered with a corporate brand, to encourage people to get in touch with their empathetic sides and share their particular stories of giving.
So, as corporate brands and businesses tap into this now-trendy notion of placing yourself in another’s position, experiencing what they feel from within THEIR frame of reference, it does raise one question. When, exactly, was this NOT something to aspire to?!?
Certainly, the Bible has ALWAYS directed us to foster a mindset of “spiritual” empathy: “To sum up, all of you be harmonious, sympathetic, brotherly, kindhearted, and humble in spirit.” (I Peter 3:8) Hmm… I wonder if that’s another type of empathy, alongside those “textbook” categories!
Regardless of whether this represents just another cultural fad or signals a true shift in our mindset, we CELEBRATE this newfound altruism! And, cross our fingers it lasts as a hallmark of our society.
Put YOUR “EQ” To Work!
So, as this holiday season swings into high gear and emotions bubble up to the surface, consider harnessing all those “warm fuzzy” feelings. Put aside judgment; see with new eyes; unlock those emotions. Then, resolve to become INTENTIONALLY empathetic during this “season of giving” – and ALL year long!
And you can start RIGHT HERE! At King’s Ransom Foundation, we wear our hearts on our sleeves every day… not just during the holidays or when it’s “trendy.” Not only can we “imagine” what it’s like to walk in another’s shoes, we LIVE it! We truly feel their poverty, their desperation, their heartache. It’s not just words on a page or photos on a website – our entire King’s Ransom community has actually “been there!” And, YOU can snag a bit of “vicarious empathy” by visiting our social media sites on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and YouTube. So, although you may not have experienced it “first-hand,” it can DEFINITELY take you a lot closer to “feeling” what others feel!