When people think of kindness, they often default to examples of kind acts. Expressing gratitude or being courteous to others are certainly forms of kindness, but sometimes the most appropriate forms of kindness aren't obvious to us. Let's take a look at one such facet of kindness: empathy. Empathy can be hard to grasp when we're young. The sooner we learn to empathize, the easier it is for us to spread kindness. It's a powerful skill, and can always be improved upon. That's why we want to focus on empathizing with others this month.
What IS Empathy, Anyway?
To begin with, empathy is defined as, "the ability to understand and share the feelings of another." Sometimes, we know exactly how someone else feels, because we've been through the exact same thing. If you've witnessed your favorite sports team lose the big game, then it's probably easy for you to understand what your friend feels like when his favorite sports team loses the big game. Maybe you've even tossed around the phrase, "I've been there. I understand," when comforting that friend. Now, what happens when we haven't been through the same thing as someone else?
Here is where our imagination comes into play. We might think the word "imagination" sounds silly or childish, but we all use our imaginations frequently. Have you ever pictured yourself doing something new, like skydiving? How about winning the lottery? You've probably spent more time using your imagination than you think. Now, how often to do you imagine yourself in someone else's shoes? Not just during the good times either (like imagining yourself being the president), but during the tough times too. It's precisely those kinds of moments where empathy is needed.
Tips to Help Us Empathize
If you're having trouble empathizing with others, remember a few helpful strategies. First, there isn't always an answer to every person's problem. We're quite used to searching for solutions or offering them as quickly as possible. "Car's outta gas? Fill the tank!" or "Lamp went out? Change the bulb!" Some situations aren't so straightforward, so we should be ready to accept when there's no simple solution in sight. Second, Don’t focus on helping the other person; instead, focus on connecting with them, and you’ll end up helping them as a result. Empathy happens in the moment when we can identify with another person's feelings, so we should strive for that moment. Third, if you're having a hard time imagining yourself in someone else's shoes, it's okay. Just listening can make a big difference. It's true that often times the best thing to say is nothing at all. We can't expect ourselves, or anyone else for that matter, to be able to accurately imagine a situation we've never been in. The best we can do is try our hardest, and make empathy a constant goal in our lives.
This month’s Random Act of Kindness challenge is: let a family member tell you about their day. And remember, “kind is the new cool.”