Does it? Really?
Absolutely it does and if, when you read that initially, you’re feeling a bit of resistance to the idea, I think it’s probably because most of the time we’re unaware of our empathy for others. Most of the time, it goes unnoticed because it’s pretty natural. Most of the time. But not all of the time. We notice the problem though when there’s a lack of empathy and the primary reason we notice it is because it inhibits connection. Connection feels good, lack of connection or disconnection feels yucky.
When we really connect with another person, or even when a group is really connected, there’s a feeling of shared understanding. I feel understood and I feel like I understand you. This makes us feel comfortable, accepted and like we belong. We humans love to feel this way, it’s nice and it’s healthy, and it’s essential to growth and getting through traumatic things that happen to us. It’s why we have friends and want to find more, why we join clubs, play sport, volunteer and share our experiences through writing etc.
Sometimes though, you get that feeling that you just can’t connect with someone. You just don’t ‘get’ them and they apparently don’t ‘get’ you either. That’s fine, that’s life. It happens and it doesn’t matter, it’s all part of the greater scheme of things. But sometimes it does matter. It matters whether you connect with certain people or not. It matters because you care about them and therefore you want to connect with them, but perhaps you just don’t understand them. This can be especially confusing when you don’t like, or agree with their behaviour, or decisions.
Sometimes what’s going on is that you’re trying to understand them, what they’re saying, what they’re going through, the way they think, before you empathise with them. It’s like using understanding as a filter. Like saying, “If I could just make sense and understand you, then maybe I could empathise with you …”. But the problem is that mostly we use understanding as a logical tool, and empathy, which is critical to connection, is a feeling, and that means making empathy dependent on logic is going to fail.
Using logical understanding as a qualifier for empathy means that we essentially want the other person to explain their own thoughts and feelings in a way that ticks the boxes and meets our criteria. It assumes that understanding is essential for empathy, but it’s not. And the thing is that if you block empathy, or apply ‘qualification rules’ to empathy, you miss out on connection.
The reason this is true is that logic is limitless and subjective. You can make endless logical arguments for a endless amounts of things in the world. You can explain and explain and explain, and still you’d never get everyone on the same page about this or that. But empathy is based on human emotion and there aren’t too many of those. Yes, of course there are extremes of the same emotion and emotions get tangled up with one another, I know, but at the end of the day, humans feel the same things. No one is inventing new emotions. No one feels something that no one else in the world has never before felt. This is why we can empathise. It’s part of what makes us human. But we shouldn’t make our friends and the ones we love qualify for that empathy through logical understanding.
There are times when our desire for logic impedes our human intuition to love and connect with one another. I don’t know what it’s like to care for a mentally disabled child day in, day out. I don’t know what it’s like to balance a high-powered career with being a mother. I don’t know what it’s like to be an 8-year-old boy struggling with bullying. But I do know what it’s like to feel overwhelmed and depressed. I do know what it’s like to feel intense anger and fear so strong it can’t be repressed. I know what it’s like to feel like no one could ever possibly understand. I know what it’s like to wish that someone did, but more than that, that even if they couldn’t understand, that they’d love me anyway.
This is the point of empathy, this is the beauty of empathy and this is why connection requires empathy. Don’t miss out that connection because somehow it seems that you have to qualify empathy - you don’t. Give it freely. Forget the circumstances, none of those are ever quite the same, but the underlying emotions usually, if not, always are the same. We all need someone to care for us and love us whether they understand us completely or not.
Empathy is something to be given freely. It’s what it was designed for.