With all the horrifying and dismal news of unnecessary deaths, bigotry and violence happening in so many parts of the world, it’s certainly difficult not to be fazed by any of it. At the risk of sounding cheesy, I have to say that all of us should play a part in making the world a little better for others (be it your friends, family or strangers). There is no need for big or extravagant gestures, because even doing something you deem small – could impact another person’s life tremendously.
“Doing good holds the power to transform us on the inside, and then ripple out in ever-expanding circles that positively impacts the world at large.” – Shari Arison
What is empathy? It is the ability to step into another person’s shoes (figuratively, of course), with the aim to understand their feelings and perspectives. Doing so, an empathetic person would use that understanding to guide his or her actions.
Here are some healthy habits to have as an empathetic person:
1. Be curious about strangers
Don’t let the sub-title above scare you. I don’t mean randomly go up to people and ask how they are doing. What I am trying to say is, don’t put yourself in a bubble. If you’re a student studying overseas, make friends with people outside of your usual social circle so that you can come to know and understand different worldviews and cultures. Also, when in conversation with a stranger; in order for a new friendship to bloom, ensure that you are an interested inquirer and not speaking merely for the sake of clearing the air. Be genuinely involved in the conversation.
2. Challenge preconceptions and discover what you have in common
As human beings, we are all imperfect and tend to develop preconceived notions of how a person is, and so we give them labels like “the loner”, “the weird one” or “the class clown”. Instead, we should be challenging our own preconceptions by discovering what we share with others, instead of what divides us. Perhaps you never knew that the girl who always kept quiet in class is a fellow Game of Thrones fan. Or, perhaps that boy you always see cracking jokes actually shares a mutual interest in pop music. I don’t know if my examples are relatable, but I hope you understand the gist of what I’m trying to say.
3. Try another person’s life
A philosopher called John Dewey said, “All genuine education comes about through experience”. In order to understand and learn about people better, try ‘walking in their shoes’ for a day, or however long you like. Spend some time volunteering in your community or in developing nations. This will help you to understand what really goes on with certain groups of people, such as children with special needs, people with physical or mental disabilities and so on.
4. Walls down, ears up
Nobody likes someone who can’t stop talking about themselves. While it is fine to share stories about yourself, do take time to always genuinely ask someone one simple question when starting a conversation: “How are you today?”
From there, you can begin to listen, and try to grasp their emotional state and needs; whether it be a friend who has experienced a death in the family or a student failing in a very important exam.
However, listening isn’t enough as we should also break down our own walls and expose a little vulnerability. I must reiterate that I do not mean we shouldn’t be cautious of people, but rather, not let others be the only ones opening up to you. When we remove our masks and reveal our feelings, an empathetic bond can grow and deepen because nothing is a one-way street, and you will feel like a better person after you do.