Embracing Empathy

One day, a young student was taking a walk with a professor who was commonly called the students’ friend because of his kindness. As they went along, they saw a pair of old shoes lying along the path, which they supposed to belong to a poor man who was employed in a field close by, and who had nearly finished his day’s work. The student turned to the professor, saying: “Let us play the man a trick: we will hide his shoes, and conceal ourselves behind those bushes, and wait to see his perplexity when he cannot find them.” “My friend” answered the professor, “we should never amuse ourselves at the expense of the poor. But you are rich and may give yourself a much greater pleasure using the poor man. Put a coin into each shoe, and then we will hide and watch how the discovery affects him.”

The student did so, and they both placed themselves behind the bushes close by. The poor man soon finished his work and came across the field to the path where he had left his coat and shoes. While putting on his coat he slipped his foot into one of his shoes; but feeling something hard, he stooped down to feel what it was, and found the coin. Astonishment and wonder were seen upon his countenance. He gazed upon the coin, turned it around, and looked at it again and again. He then looked around him on all sides, but no person was to be seen. He now put the money into his pocket and proceeded to put on the other shoe, but his surprise was doubled on finding the other coin. His feelings overcame him; he fell upon his knees, looked up to heaven and uttered aloud a fervent thanksgiving in which he spoke of his wife, sick and helpless, and his children without bread whom the timely bounty, from some unknown hand, would save from perishing.

The student stood there deeply affected, and his eyes filled with tears. “Now,” he said to the professor, “are you not much better pleased than if you had played your intended trick?” The Professor replied, “You have taught me a lesson which I will never forget. I feel now the truth of those words, which I never understood before: ‘It is more blessed to give than to receive.'”

The above story is one that highlights the power of empathy, and how great we can make others feel when we put ourselves in their moccasin without judgment or criticism, bearing in mind that it could have been us. Empathy is the capacity to understand or feel what another person is experiencing from within their frame of reference, that is, the capacity to place oneself in another’s situation. It involves complete identification with another.

Often, we see people pass through pain, trauma, abuse, failure, or other bad times, and whilst we may not have in our hands, the solution to their problem, a little empathy could go a long way in helping them heal and feel better. This is because feeling heard and understood is a human need. If you have ever had one of those days when you just needed someone to talk to, someone to get how you were feeling without misunderstanding or judging you? Well, you were more than likely to need a dose of empathy.

Without empathy, people tend to go about life without considering how other people feel or what they may be thinking. Each of us have differing perspectives, and we are so limited when we only see our perspective. If there is anyone secret of success, it lies in the ability to get the other person’s point of view and see things from his angle as well as your own. When we do not take a moment to assess another’s feelings, it is easy to make assumptions and jump to conclusions. This often leads to misunderstandings, bad feelings, conflict, poor morale, and even divorce. In the absence of empathy, we could live and work side-by-side with other people, and remain as clueless about their inner selves and feelings.

Although both words are mostly used interchangeably, sympathy and empathy are, in fact, different. You can be sympathetic to someone’s situation while being completely clueless about his feelings and thoughts. Sympathy is feeling for someone; empathy involves feeling with them.
In the workplace, empathy can show deep respect for co-workers and show that you care, as opposed to just going by rules and regulations. An empathic leadership style can make everyone feel like a team and increase productivity, morale, and loyalty. Empathy is a powerful tool in the leadership belt of a well-liked and respected executive. As leaders, our role is simple -deal empathetically with our team and watch them build a strong and prosperous organization. Do not be the CEO who doesn’t care about his employees’ perspectives or feelings, or that colleague that is barely affected if the problem doesn’t concern them.

Empathy can be incorporated in a professional setting by; Establishing rapport with colleagues, showing reasonable concern and support for colleagues in every way possible to help them perform and grow, Practicing active listening without interrupting and reflective listening by paraphrasing, avoiding quick judgment, using appropriate non-verbal cues; and validating the other people’s perspective (this does not mean agreement, but simply that you understand where they are coming from)

Empathy is a skill like any other human skill. If you get a chance to practice, you can get better at it. When you show deep empathy toward others, their defensive energy goes down, and positive energy replaces it. That’s when you can get more creative in solving problems. Ultimately, developing your powers of empathy and imagination makes the whole world open up to you.
Learn to stand in somebody else’s shoes, to see through their eyes, that’s how peace begins. And it’s up to you to make that happen. Empathy is the quality of character that can change the world” –Barack Obama.

Practicing Self-Compassion

Self-compassion is extending compassion to one’s self in instances of perceived inadequacy, failure, or general suffering. It is nurturing yourself with kindness and the love you would shower someone you love. To a great extent, we are guilty of self-criticism more than we are of self-compassion.

When people experience a setback in their personal or career lives whether it’s a bad sales quarter, being overlooked for a promotion, or an interpersonal conflict with a colleague—it’s common to respond in one of two ways. Either we become defensive and blame others, or we berate ourselves. Unfortunately, neither response is especially helpful. Whilst blaming other people may alleviate the sting of failure at the expense of learning, self-flagellation, on the other hand, can lead to an inaccurately gloomy assessment of one’s potential, which undermines personal development and crushes self-confidence. Self-criticism comes at a price: It makes us anxious, dissatisfied with our life, and even depressed.
Compassion for others begins with kindness to ourselves.

A water-bearer carries two large pots on a yoke across his shoulders up the hill from the river to his master’s house each day. One has a crack and leaks half its water out each day before arriving at the house. The other pot is perfect and always delivered a full portion of water after the long walk from the river.
Finally, after years of arriving half-empty and feeling guilty, the cracked pot apologized to the water-bearer. It was miserable. “I’m sorry that I couldn’t accomplish what the perfect pot did.” The water-bearer says, “What do you have to apologize for?”
“After all this time, I still only deliver half my load of water. I make more work for you because of my flaw.”
The man smiled and told the pot. “Take note of all the lovely flowers growing on the side of the path where I carried you. The flowers grew so lovely because of the water you leaked. There are no flowers on the perfect pot’s side.”

The above story is a tangible example of how guilt, shame, self-doubt, or self-criticism lures us into taking into account only certain pieces of narratives or information about ourselves and working them to judge ourselves unfairly. The cracked pot in this story was filled with self-guilt and criticism that all it saw was its imperfection, and unconsciously ignored the fact that the plants by the road blossomed because it could water it. The perfect pot grew no flowers.

It is inevitable not to make mistakes or fail at something. Failure is a universal language that everyone can speak. The most important thing, however, is not how many times we made mistakes or failed at something, but how we treat ourselves each time we meet setbacks. What words are we telling ourselves? How injudicious are we in judging our competence and skills? Are we are compassionate to ourselves as we are to close friends when they meet setbacks. As much as we can easily encourage friends and loved ones to take it easy on themselves when they are a dark place, we should be that mindful of ourselves. When you are self-critical, stop for a minute and ask yourself, “Would I say this to a child or a friend?” if the answer is no, then don’t say it to yourself.

How much we let our inner critic condemn us on our failures will hugely affect our level of productivity, self-esteem, and confidence. Self-criticism works if only it leads to self-correction, not self-destruction. It is like a self-administered brain surgery that is perhaps not a good idea. Ultimately, self-compassion is a more effective motivator because its driving force is love, not fear nor anxiety.

To cultivate self-compassion, you will need to learn to forgive yourself for your mistakes and reevaluate your self-talk. Forgiveness is vital for self-compassion. We all make mistakes, but not all of us forgive ourselves. Depending on the mistake, forgiveness can be a very daunting task, but keep in mind that dwelling on past mistakes you have made only allows those decisions to keep defining you, so you will need to forgive yourself if you must move on. Work towards recognizing when you’re participating in negative self-talk and make an effort to change your internal dialogue. Instead of focusing on the negative, celebrate yourself, and how far you’ve come.

Secondly, practice mindfulness; a mental state achieved by focusing one’s awareness on the present moment, while calmly acknowledging and accepting one’s feelings, thoughts, and bodily sensations. Mindfulness has been found to have a positive impact on self-compassion, as it tends to lessen self-judgment. Strive to always be in the moment and to be aware of what is happening right now, without judgment and labeling. Allow what you think or feel to have its moment; don’t give it the microphone or hide it in the corner. Allow it to come, and then, without attachment, let it go.

Lastly, adopt an attitude of gratitude. Your mindset determines your reality. If you have a negative outlook and believe that the world is out to get you, you will attract that energy into your life. Conversely, if you believe that the Universe wants you to thrive, it will be much easier for you to find the resources that are needed to achieve your goals. Gratitude is the healthiest of all human emotions. The more you express gratitude for what you have, the more likely you will have even more to express gratitude for.”

We can’t practice compassion with others if we can’t treat ourselves kindly. If a man is going down into a river, swollen and swiftly flowing, is carried away by the current- how can he help others across?

Remember, you’ve been criticizing yourself for years and it hasn’t worked. Try approving of yourself and see what happens.

Living A Life Of Integrity

A successful businessman was growing old and knew it was time to choose a successor to take over the business. Instead of choosing one of his Directors or his children, he called all the young executives in his company together.
He said, “It is time for me to step down and choose the next CEO. I have decided to choose one of you.” The young executives were shocked, but the boss continued, “I am going to give each one of you a seed today – one very special seed. I want you to plant the seed, water it, and come back here one year from today with what you have grown from the seed. I will then judge the plants that you bring, and the one I choose will be the next CEO.”

One man, named Jim, was there that day and he, like the others, received a seed. He went home and excitedly, told his wife the story. She helped him get a pot, soil, and compost and he planted the seed.
Although Jim watered his seed daily, nothing ever grew. Three weeks, four weeks, five weeks went by, still nothing. By now, others were talking about their plants, but Jim didn’t have a plant and he felt like a failure.

A year went by and the CEO asked the young executives to bring their plants to work for inspection. When Jim told his wife that he wasn’t going to take an empty pot, she asked him to be honest about what happened. Jim felt sick to his stomach, it was going to be the most embarrassing moment of his life, but he knew his wife was right. He took his empty pot to the board room.
When Jim arrived, he was amazed at the variety of plants grown by the other executives. They were beautiful – in all shapes and sizes. Jim put his empty pot on the floor and many of his colleagues laughed, a few felt sorry for him!
When the CEO arrived, he surveyed the room and greeted his young executives. Jim just tried to hide in the back. “My, what great plants, trees, and flowers you have grown,” said the CEO. “Today one of you will be appointed the next CEO!”
All of a sudden, the CEO spotted Jim at the back of the room with his empty pot. He asked Jim to come to the front of the room. The CEO asked him what had happened to his seed & Jim told him the story. The CEO asked everyone to sit down except Jim. He looked at Jim, and then announced to the young executives, “Behold your next Chief Executive Officer — Jim!”
Jim couldn’t believe it. “How could he be the new CEO?” the others said.
Then the CEO said, “One year ago today, I gave everyone in this room a seed. I told you to take the seed, plant it, water it, and bring it back to me today. But I gave you all boiled seeds; they were dead – they couldn’t grow. All of you, except Jim, have brought me trees and plants and flowers. When you found that the seed would not grow, you substituted another seed for the one I gave you. Jim was the only one with the courage and honesty to bring me a pot with my seed in it. Therefore, he is the one who will be the new Chief Executive Officer!”

Even though Jim, unlike his colleagues, had no flourishing plant to show to the CEO as regarding this story, he had something that earned him the CEO position, and that is a character of integrity.
Integrity is the practice of being honest and showing consistent and uncompromising adherence to strong moral and ethical principles and values.

In today’s world, people mostly choose their thoughts and actions based on personal gain. It is not bad enough that we have people who have no set principles and values and so have no defined way of life, we also have those with supposed strong moral ethics, but who defy it at their convenience to soothe their interest. The world is filled with people who say what they do not do, claim to be who they are not, or know people they do not know. Put simply, we have more people who prefer to be a corrupt success than those who will rather be an honest failure.

As you progress in life, you’d come face to face with situations that will test your integrity. It could be that time in your office where you wholeheartedly accepted accolades for a task a subordinate had done or that time in your business you double-crossed a partner to get a deal or being dishonest about a skill just to get hired for a job. The problem with dishonesty, however, is that it may take care of the present, but has no future.

Integrity is the seed for achievement, and successful people are highly integrious. They say what they do and they do what they say. They are trusted by those whom they interact with and can build healthy relationships with consummate ease.

When you live with integrity, you influence, inspire, and motivate others; not just with your words but with your actions too.

Honesty and integrity are essential for success in life, and the good news is that we can develop both if we only choose to. Whilst you worry about your self-esteem and other things you want to build, be most concerned about your character. Integrity is its own reward. Choose to be honest than impressive because when you can maintain your own highest standard of integrity –regardless of what others may do- you are destined for greatness.