Empathy is a Choice……

Our brains are wired to run from pain including emotional pain, whether it is ours or someone else’s. I have a friend who is suffering from Cancer and even though we are good friends it’s hard sometimes to know what to say or do to help. We have all been in those situations and they can get uncomfortable even when we are trying to be there for them. For some of us these situations are just too uncomfortable and emotionally painful. My friend has taught me that just being there as a friend is all he needs.

I can remember years back Chester challenging myself, Larry Allen and Mike Matrka, to ride 9 Mountains in France that were part of the Tour De France. It took me a month to make up my mind to do it…..I was mentally running away from the pain that would be involved in the training, losing weight and being out of my comfort zone on a regular basis! Riding those 9 mountains in France was one of the greatest experiences of my life.

So whether it’s physical or emotional pain, you can be sure that the old wiring in your brain will be at work figuring out ways for you to run like hell away from that pain whether it be emotional or physical.

As we look around our country today we are a deeply divided country, with very complex problems to resolve and not enough people willing to listen to reasoned discourse. Obviously, we could all benefit from more open, honest and transparent communication. At the heart of this kind of communication, the kind that enriches and transforms people’s lives, is the Attribute of EMPATHY. Empathy is a choice and it’s a skill that any of us can learn and master with practice.

I think some of the best writing I have seen to date on the subject of empathy comes from Theresa Wiseman, a nurse, teacher and recognized scholar in the field of health care. She developed 4 Attributes that she wanted to use to teach young nurses how to have a more caring, understanding Nurse, Patient Experiences. Today these 4 Attributes are widely practiced and taught throughout corporate America.

Theresa Wiseman’s Four Attributes of Empathy:

  • To be able to see the world as others see it—this requires putting our stuff aside to see the situation through the eyes of a loved one.
  • To be nonjudgmental—judgment of another person’s situation discounts the experience and is an attempt to protect ourselves from the pain of the situation.
  • To understand another person’s feelings—we need to be in touch with our personal feelings in order to understand someone else’s. This also requires putting aside “us” to focus on our loved one.
  • To communicate our understanding of that person’s feelings—rather than saying, “At least…” or “It could be worse…” try this, “I’ve been there, and that really hurts,” or “It sounds like you are in a hard place now. Tell me more about it.”

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One response to “Empathy is a Choice……

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