Sunday, June 21, 2020

The More You Know, The More You Can Understand

We seem to be seeing a wave or empathy moving through our country. Why now? Why not in all the years before the death of yet another black man?

Empathy is the ability to share and understand each other's experiences. We think of it as an innate trait. But it is really a skill. The correct experiences, habits and practices can increase empathic capacity. The more it is exercised the stronger it becomes. On the other hand, other experiences can cause empathy to atrophy, like a muscle that is unused.

Seeing a police officer kneel on the neck of a man for more than 8 minutes, even after he had obviously lost consciousness, shocked the nation when the video went viral. The officers' obvious lack of concern for the life of a man who was suspected of passing a counterfeit $20 bill was an experience that gave us clear knowledge of the black experience. The ability to share that experience helped us understand what we had ignored for so long.

Researchers have found that power and privilege sap our ability to understand others. Psychologist Michael Kraus and his colleagues measured people's socio-economic status and their ability to decipher emotions in pictures and in-person interactions. They found that people higher in status were less accurate about other people's feelings. And more recent work has replicated these results and also found that high-status people make more errors when trying to take another's perspective.

Empathy is a skill that we need to make the world better. When we know and better understand others, the more we can create peace, inclusivity, collaboration, etc. 

So, if you are someone who wants to make the world better, you need to create experiences where you can get to know people who are different from you in some way, so that you can understand them and know what they are about, what they need or want. Practice listening to others without trying to shape what they say or think. Make a habit of connecting with more people to learn more about them and their lives. 

This is especially important if you are in a leadership role. You will make much better decisions as a result. 

Make this the Empathy Era. 

 (from "Calls for racial justice gained steam with empathy" by Jamil Jaki),

Image by Gerd Altmann from Pixabay 

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