“Empathy is one of human beings’ highest qualities,” says Dr Steve Taylor, psychology lecturer at Leeds Beckett University.
“Empathy is the root of most of the behavior that we associate with ‘goodness.’ It’s the root of compassion and altruism, self-sacrifice and charity. Conversely, a lack of empathy is the root of most destructive and violent behavior – in fact, everything that we associate with ‘evil.’ A lack of empathy with victims makes crime possible. A lack of empathy with other human groups makes warfare possible. A lack of empathy enables psychopaths to treat other human beings callously, as objects who have no value except as a means of satisfying their desires.”
In other words, empathy is what makes us human and saves us from becoming beastly.
Empathy brings rewards both in this world and in the hereafter, in our individual lives and also in the community as a whole. It is the cement which solidifies the love between people. It softens our hearts and guides our souls to doing good; it makes us true believers.
The problem is that most of us don’t feel the same kind of empathy all the time; we don’t know how to switch on the empathy light in our hearts at will. We cry while watching a movie, but we can’t relate to our mom crying because she burnt her cake.
How do we get control over the empathy-switch? How do we feel empathy for a person, any person?
How to Increase Empathy
If you want to empathize with a certain individual, here are some things you can try out:
- Get to know the individual as much as you can. Hang out with him, perhaps browse his online profile, learn about him from others and so on.
- Practice active listening. We all have the desire to express ourselves. But when you want to be empathetic towards someone, suppress your desire for a bit and encourage the other person to talk. Sprinkle the conversation with sympathetic expressions (hmm, “I understand,” “I see,” or “Then what happened?”) And repeat what they have just said in your own words to let them know you understood and that you’re interested in their story.
- Read the eyes. We can disguise our true emotions by stretching our mouth into a fake smile, but our eyes always betray us. Learn to read the eyes. In your spare time, research about facial expressions and body language.
- Visualize yourself in their situation. Give your imagination a free reign. Let it transport you to the other person’s world. Example: Visualize your house being bombed into rubble. All your worldly possessions have been destroyed. How would you feel?
- Recall a similar situation in your life and how you felt about it. For example, relate to a mother who’s lost her child by remembering how you felt when your kitten died. It’s not the same, I know, but it will give you an inkling of the mother’s feelings.
Summing it All Up
Empathy is as much a natural instinct as a skill you can learn and develop. Invest some time in building this incredibly useful skill, and become a better human being and a better believer, in Sha’ Allah.
References: Steve Taylor. Understanding Empathy. https://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/out-the-darkness/201509/understanding-empathy