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Empowered with Empathy

There is power in our ability to experience and demonstrate empathy. The Greater Good Magazine published by the University of California, Berkeley defines it as “our ability to sense other people’s emotions, coupled with the ability to imagine what someone else might be thinking or feeling.”  It is critically different from sympathy.  Sympathy says “I feel sorry for you”, empathy says, “I am with you through your struggle.” University of Houston Professor and author Brené Brown differentiates between the two in this way—“Empathy fuels connection, sympathy drives disconnection. Empathy is feeling with people.  Empathy is a choice, it is a venerable choice. Because in order to connect with you, I have to connect with something within myself that knows that feeling. (And) what makes something better is connection.”

Empathy is necessary to our survival.  Not only does it make us better people, but it enables us to better regulate our own emotions by providing us with perspective and understanding.  It allows us to become more willing and adept to help others which in turn leads others be more willing to help us in our time of need; and it builds critical social connections which we need for both our physical and psychological well-being. 

There are 4 different qualities of empathy

Perspective taking -the ability to put yourself in someone else’s shoes so that you can understand their viewpoint.

Staying out of judgement – being disciplined to hold your tongue and not say “you should’ve.”

Recognizing emotion- seeing it in other people and the ability to connect with that feeling within yourself.

And then Communicating that- coming alongside of someone and providing connection and unconditional love.

There are 3 different types of empathy

  • Cognitive
    • Involves more rationality than emotion.  It allows us to understand why a person believes something even if we don’t agree or have a different opinion.  This can be crucial in the workplace as it give us the skills to provide leadership in a way that cultivates teamwork.  In a blog post for “Softway,” Frank Danna states, “Empathy begets empathy. As a leader, if you demonstrate genuine empathy to each of your team members, it can significantly encourage them to perform at their best.  (And) it inspires them to be empathetic to you as a leader.”  It can be transformative in building teams and workplaces that generate an energy that is more inclusive and therefore more productive. 
  • Affective
    • This is the side of empathy that allows us to share an emotional experience.  It requires us to be venerable, to allow us to feel another’s pain.  It is a wonderful building block for great relationships as long as we do not allow ourselves to become engulfed by our emotions.
  • Compassionate
    • This is empathetic motivation. It is exemplified by someone feeling inspired enough by another person’s plight to take action on his or her behalf. It can compel us to get involved and work toward greater solutions.
  • How do we become more empathetic?
    • Be curious about others.  Step outside your bubble and gain insight as to what people in other situations are experiencing.
    • Pay attention.  Start noticing other people’s facial expressions and body posture.  Listen closely to their tone of voice and what they are saying without judgement.
    • Utilize eye contact.  I hope this isn’t a lost art.  I had a kindergarten teacher tell me that when you look at someone’s eyes you are telling them that you are listening.  Discipline yourself to make eye contact.  

Allowing ourselves to be empowered with empathy can enable us to fuel understanding, cultivate a culture of connection, provide a sense of belonging to those around us, motivate us to be a force for positive change, and in doing so create a better world for our future

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