“Mouth” McGarry, the manager of the failing baseball team Hoboken Zephyrs, decides to allow a robot named Casey to pitch for his team. Casey has an amazing arm and throws a fast ball no batter can hit. During one game, Casey is hit by a ball and must receive a physical from the league doctor. The doctor, upon examination of Casey, realizes he is robot and therefore cannot play on the team. The inventor who created Casey installs a “heart” into Casey which allows him to be classified as a human since he can now “feel”. With his new heart, Casey begins to show empathy for others and no longer wants to strike the players from the other team out. Casey ends up quitting baseball altogether and becoming a social worker.
This Twilight Zone episode makes the act of empathy seem so easy. That with a heart, empathy naturally comes but we all know that this is not true. All humans are born with a heart. It pumps blood through our bodies, allowing us to live but the act of empathy is something that we have to consciously decide we want to feel and act upon. Empathy is the ability to understand and share the feelings of another. This sounds easy enough in definition but why is it so hard in practice? Why is empathy something that seems so natural in being human yet is so hard to find in ourselves and in others?
Empathy is hard because it means that in order to understand where another person is coming from, we have to put ourselves in their same situation or try to find in ourselves and in our past, when we have felt this same feeling. Empathy is a window not only into the soul of others but into our own. When we allow others to see our soul, we feel vulnerable and that scares us. So instead of connecting with others by letting them know we see their pain, we see their struggle, and we are there with them because we either have felt that pain or struggle or we can imagine what that feels like, we shut the windows, close the doors, and try to protect that raw part of ourselves. But what many of us don’t realize is that it is that very raw part of us that connects us to others. It is that connection that allows us to truly be human.
Body parts make us human but they alone cannot make us have the human experience. Humans are meant and made for connection. We are made to belong with a tribe or group that reflects our beliefs, our culture, and our way of living. Without connection, we are lost, we do not have purpose, and we flounder in the human experience. This lack of connection shows itself as depression, sadness, apathy, anger, and fear.
To live the human experience to its fullest potential, one must allow themselves to be vulnerable, show empathy, and connect with others. If you are having a hard time being empathic, learn from Brene Brown’s research on the four aspects of empathy:
- Perspective Taking
- Staying out of Judgement
- Recognizing Emotion in Other People
- Communicating that Emotion with Others
By being able to see another’s perspective we can begin to understand and see the world as they experience and see it. When we understand another’s perspective, we do so without judgment. Judgement is the first wedge in connection. To truly connect with another, we must do so from a place of an open mind and open heart. Assume nothing, expect nothing, just listen and be. Once we allow ourselves to be receptive to another’s experience, we are able to recognize the emotion they are feeling and possibly identify that very emotion or feeling inside ourselves. Lastly, which I believe this is the most difficult for many, is to speak to one another about this emotion. Speaking about the emotion is not fixing the problem, it is not finding a silver lining, it is not trying to make the situation better, it is sitting with that person and letting them know we are there for them, we see them, we hear them, and we are there to support them. We don’t have to have the perfect words. Sometimes the best communication is a hug, a knowing smile, a shared tear, or holding their hand.
The next time you see someone struggling or in pain, instead of trying to fix the situation, or ignore it or them, try your hand at empathy. You will be surprised at the connection you will feel when you are able to see the life of another through their eyes and yours.