“It’s important what thoughts you are feeding into your mind because your thoughts create your belief and experiences. You have positive thoughts and you have negative ones too. Nurture your mind with positive thoughts: kindness, empathy, compassion, peace, love, joy, humility, generosity, etc. The more you feed your mind with positive thoughts, the more you can attract great things into your life.”
― Roy T. Bennett
We often think of empathy as something we choose to engage in for the sake of others.
However, practicing empathy is actually most beneficial for our own mental health and emotional well-being. A strong sense of empathy increases our awareness and understanding of the world, making us more capable of navigating it clearly.
As you build your sense of empathy, it may even begin to feel like a superpower. You will find yourself looking deeper into the motivations of others and better able to communicate your own. You will develop a masterful hand in navigating the conflicts that exist between individual people, and those that spread to impact society in a larger sense. You will renew and strengthen your resilience to negativity.
Essentially, building your capacity for empathy will help you to become stronger, smarter, more tolerant, more peaceful, and much more wise to the world around you.
Here are seven ways to do it:
1. Read everything you can get your hands on.
As James Baldwin wrote, “You think your pain and your heartbreak are unprecedented in the history of the world, but then you read. It was books that taught me that the things that tormented me most were the very things that connected me with all the people who were alive, who had ever been alive.”
2. When faced with a viewpoint you disagree with, listen with the intent of understanding, rather than the intent of changing the other person’s mind.
3. Abandon your go-to news source – or at least supplement it with one you don’t care for.
Most modern journalism is very heavily biased. So are we. As human beings, we tend to seek out information that supports beliefs we already have – a phenomenon called confirmation bias. Fight this by reading news from an end of the political spectrum you normally scoff at. Use this infographic as a guide.
4. Search for good intentions.
Even in the context of ugly behavior, there is usually something redeeming – or at the very least, hurting and vulnerable – to be discovered.
5. Take your head out of your phone and computer.
Conversations with other people – especially those you might not normally talk to – can be much more enlightening.
6. When someone does something that offends you, seek to understand their motivations.
Ask questions to clarify their behavior. Remember that they have life experiences much different than your own that – right or wrong – led them to make these choices.
7. “When people talk, listen completely,” wrote Ernest Hemingway.
“Most people never listen.” Strive to listen to others with your whole consciousness. Your mind should not be criticizing, evaluating, or constructing your own reply as you do so. There will be time for that once the other person is finished speaking.
“It is an absolute human certainty that no one can know his own beauty or perceive a sense of his own worth until it has been reflected back to him in the mirror of another loving, caring human being,” wrote John Joseph Powell. Give this gift to someone, and in the end you will be keeping it for yourself.