Empathy. It’s been on my mind a lot recently, and I’m trying to understand why. Then, it hit me – too often we lack it, and this leaves others (most everyone) feeling isolated.
Merriam-Webster’s dictionary defines empathy as:
The ability to understand and share the feelings of another.
I’ve decided to dedicate today’s post to this singular word because it’s highly important for not just everyday citizens of our communities, but also as entrepreneurs. If you can’t be empathetic to your customers’ problems, you’ll likely fail to build a product/ service that resonates and is sustainable.
First, sympathy and empathy are not the same. It’s important to know the difference because they’re oftentimes interchanged improperly. Sympathy is defined as feelings of pity and sorrow for someone else's misfortune, or understanding between people; common feeling. Empathy goes deeper than sympathy in being able to share/ experience emotions of another.
In a recent enlightenment of empathy and the lack thereof, I took on a recent challenge – calling it “30 broccoli, 30 days”. I loathe vegetables. I haven’t touched broccoli in many, many years prior to this challenge (started September 1st). The challenge is to consume at least one broccoli a day. Since, I’ve decided to ramp up the number of broccoli florets each week.
The funny thing here is you may be reading this and asking, “so what? It’s just a single floret.” Therein lies the problem. Where your mind takes you next is where empathy either surfaces, or not. I’ve indeed received many people asking the same question including the occasional ridicule. Though I’m not so bothered about this because I understand why, I’m also coming to the realization how often others fail to understand my why. It’s shocking how often people jump to conclusions based on how they feel and what they think. There is no compassion or interest in learning my perspective.
This lack of empathy reared its ugly head during 100 Strangers, 100 Days. Too often, people judge from the outside, and set all subsequent interactions based on this judgement. There is a lack of interest in getting to know others – the good and the bad.
Truth is, consuming broccoli is akin to my own mini-Fear Factor. Perhaps I’m sharing this to practice vulnerability knowing full well there are those who will ridicule. That’s okay. I’m confronting my fear because I do know vegetables are “good” for me, though, I loathe them. So, I challenge myself.
How often do others confront their fears? How often do others look for ways to challenge themselves? That’s okay, too. Truth here, too, is that I do my thing because I know my why and I know what I want to achieve. Do others feel the same way about themselves? I’m not sure, and it doesn’t matter. It shouldn’t in this case. But I’m happy to learn.
Take a moment today, tomorrow, this week. Practice a little empathy. If you feel the knee-jerk reaction to judge and ridicule, fine. But then, follow up those thoughts with questions of why.
Empathy might be that one big thing we’re missing in our communities that’s driving wild accusations and creating misunderstood resentment. Practice empathy.