Define Empathy

I'm of the opinion that we're currently experiencing a massive scale lack of empathy in the world. There's an overabundance of narcissistic thinking pervading society. It's exacerbated by the ease with which we're able to impersonally project through social and mass media, and the correlative tendency for authentic personal connections with others to suffer. We need to revisit and reconnect with our ability to be empathic.

Most would claim to know the meaning of the word empathy. Many would describe it through a narrative sounding like, "well that person showed empathy when they (you can fill in the blank here)." They would probably describe what it looks, sounds, and feels like without describing what it literally means. Empathy is a concept not so easy to define with words.



em·​pa·​thy ˈem-pə-thē
1: the action of understanding, being aware of, being sensitive to, and vicariously experiencing the feelings, thoughts, and experience of another of either the past or present without having the feelings, thoughts, and experience fully communicated in an objectively explicit manner

also: the capacity for this

2: the imaginative projection of a subjective state into an object so that the object appears to be infused with it

We can all memorize the above definition(s) of empathy and perhaps feel like we're informed about the application of the word. Knowing is not necessarily the same as understanding. Empathy is an experience; we can do empathy. Becoming conscious practitioners of empathy is something I suggest we all need to do. I can't think of any negative outcome that would derive from understanding, being aware of, being sensitive to, and vicariously experiencing the feelings, thoughts, and experiences of another.

Do we Know Empathy If We Don't Do Empathy?

Understanding different types of empathy is useful when attempting to strategize an empathic perspective, and follow through with purposeful empathy. In Berkeley’s Greater Good Magazine, ("Hot To Help", Daniel Goleman details three different actionable empathic states of consciousness: cognitive empathy, emotional empathy, and compassionate empathy.
cognitive empathy- Simply knowing how the other person feels and what they might be thinking.
emotional empathy- When you physically feel what other people feel, as though their emotions were contagious.
compassionate empathy- With this kind of empathy we not only understand a person’s predicament and feel with them but are spontaneously moved to help if needed.
Each of these empathy perspectives comes with conditions. How we employ each or any of the three types of empathy depends on the situational reality we're faced with.
The three types of empathy bear similarities relative to the three main rhetorical appeals.
Employing empathy is in many ways an attempt to convince another that you "feel with them," but in slightly different ways, and for slightly different purposes.
Cognitive empathy is an attempt to convince another that you know what they're thinking; it employs logic and reason to perceive why someone may be thinking in any particular way, (logos.)
Emotional empathy, (pathos) is an attempt to convince another that you physically feel what they feel.
Compassionate empathy is an attempt to convince another that you are moved to spontaneously help them if needed because it's the right ethical thing to do, (ethos.)
So much capital in relationships depends on the empathy perspectives we bring to them. People and organizations often speak about the importance of "making connections." Entire mission/vision/values statements are based on the principle. It does pose a problem, however, when one is asked to explain "how" they actually go about making connections, and the answer eludes them. If one can't describe the process or action(s) that lead to stronger connections being made, it would be hard to justify that a deliberate process exists.
Hope without action is wishful thinking.
One of my volunteer efforts is to proudly work as a first responder on behalf of the Candian Ski Patrol. In our role as first responders, my colleagues and I demonstrate deliberate empathy in the actions we take while on duty serving the partons at various ski resorts throughout our Mountain Division.
When we respond to an incident it's critically important to first employ cognitive empathy. We have to think our way through the situation and how the patient is feeling as a result of what happened that requires our assistance. The degree of severity varies depending on the nature of the scene and there are instances when we encounter an unconscious patient making it exceedingly difficult to relate to their perspective. Each incident, no matter how serious, requires our best objective thinking leading to the best possible course of action to preserve life and limb while preparing to evacuate our patients to medical care, the following link in the chain of care.
Emotional empathy is not useful to us in the midst of our initial response to an accident scene. We necessarily repress our own emotional feelings in order to make clear and logical decisions from a cognitive perspective. Simultaneously we also need to consider the compassionate nature of our empathic perspective with respect to what we need to do on the patient's behalf, and they need to feel like we're taking care of them in effective ways.
Once we have successfully evacuated the patient to whatever degree of appropriate medical care is necessary, we feel a sense of duty to ourselves to allow our emotions to emerge and be dealt with in the ways they need to be. We routinely debrief to talk about what just happened, how we performed, and the sorts of emotions that smouldered necessarily under the surface while we achieved our best logical response to a critical situation. We talk about our feelings for the patient and their misfortune, and we contact those who need to know what happened in order to share the details in the most sensitive ways possible.
Ours is an organization founded on conscious, deliberate empathic actions. We don't get paid for the service we provide, but we're exceedingly compensated by our knowledge that we've performed a critical service to people in need while giving back to a sport we all love. That is our action.
The conversation addressing how we and the organizations we represent are practicing deliberate empathy is a necessary and purposeful action in and of itself, and as timely as it's ever been considering the lack of empathy we're confronted with these days.


Popular Posts