The Mystery About Empathy

Good Afternoon Friends, 

My name is JoAnna LeFlore and I move thru life advocating for mindfulness, ambition and cultural creativity. I see myself as a motivator for all of these things and my most trusted tool for doing so is thru the gift of empathy.  

WHAT’S THE MYSTERY ABOUT EMPATHY? I’m here today to convince you that empathy is not complicated and is probably an undiscovered talent that you will need in order to build better relationships, gain a better understanding of your clients and seeking authenticity while doing so. 

In my experience as a project manager and public engagement facilitator in the arts & community development sector, I’ve realized that all human beings have one thing in common: a beating heart. How each person chooses to express what’s in their heart is that authenticity that I’m talking about now. It’s a sort of language that we all speak without being asked to do so. We communicate what’s in our hearts not only with words, but even non-verbally thru this idea of empathy. 

WHAT DOES EMPATHY LOOK LIKE? The cool part about this word is that it is a noun that describes something that everyone can attain or already possesses. Here’s a quick test: The next time you are in a room with someone else, ask the person how their day went. And wait for it….Listen for their response. Notice HOW he/she/they communicated the response. Did they sigh, or take a deep breath and give a quick answer? Did they look away and start speaking in incomplete phrases? Did they brush you off like your question was not relevant to them?

All of these types of responses are signs that someone is exercising their human right: to communicate with you. Even if they did not reply with a reflective answer, they still presented themselves to you in the best way that they could: AUTHENTICALLY. 

It’s also possible that this person gave unsatisfying replies because they presumed that you did not care to listen to their verbalized thoughts. They may be thinking, “They do not really care how my day went. Everybody asks that question.” Unfortunately, we have been trained or seem to habitually ask someone how their day went similar to the question, “how’s it going?” or “Hey what’s up?” 

None of these questions require much effort on the person inquiring to have a human connection with someone. It does not require them to be empathetic. 

Now here’s a second test: Begin the same conversation with the same person and pause after you ask the question, as if you are waiting for a response. If they answer you with more detail, they have realized that you are listening. But did you have to tell them that you were listening? Probably not so. I can bet that instead they simply “felt” that you were genuinely interested in their day. Often times we don’t realize that we are always communicating with one another without words. We are picking up on body language and emotions quicker than we can translate the meanings of words that a person chooses to reply with. You don’t have to take my word for it. Here’s a few books from psychology & sociology experts on the matter: 

BUT HOW IS IT DONE? The act of being empathetic does not have to be complicated. You can try the simple route that I suggested earlier in order to get into practice with being considerate of others feelings or moods. To take it a step further, the next time someone asks you a generalized question, practice responding with some detailed emotion like, “I’m feeling Blank today” or “I’m experiencing this…..” I guarantee that when you require others to listen to you while you speak from your heart, the people who deserve to listen will still be standing there. And the ones who don’t care about how you are experiencing life, will care less. The good thing about this strategy is you will quickly find out who is being their authentic self or not. You will also find out who your real friends are. 

Today I want to challenge you to empower yourself and the people you interact with by asking questions with empathy in mind. Try to actually have a genuine conversation with a friend or a stranger even. Try to open up your heart to the ideas and concerns of others. It’s possible that you might get the hang of this empathy thing and not feel insignificant in the lives of people you engage with. It’s possible that you will find more meaning in the work that you do. It’s possible that you will discover the constant reminder that we are all existing together and it’s no surprise that using empathy is the easiest way to move through life’s experiences. 

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