This evening I went to visit a close friend who has been suffering with really bad back ache. She was putting a brave face on it but she was struggling to move and my heart completely went out to her. I wanted to do anything I could to help but I could see that really there was very little I could do save for being a friendly face (and taking her a horse bandage that she had asked for – apparently after her appointment this afternoon the physio had suggested tying it round her hips may help).
It got me thinking about the difference between sympathy and empathy. I watched a short film online recently that was to assist with understanding the difference. It showed someone down a deep dark hole that represented a state of difficulty. A friend came to the top and shouted down a comment about how awful it looked down there. That didn’t really help, that was sympathy. Another friend came and climbed down the hole and then gave their friend a hug, that was empathy. It certainly made me want to be the type of friend who could do that, climb down and be there for my friends when they need me.
But how to put yourself in someone else’s shoes can be really difficult. The best thought I had was to try to think what my friend wanted. So rather than assuming that she wanted a natter and a cup of tea, like any other day, I realised that actually she was worn out and a quick hello, a hug, and telling her I loved her, was much better. The offer to do anything to help and the promise that I was on the end of the phone meant more than me fussing round her when she was worn out. Simply acknowledging that I was sorry made a difference.
So I left her in a state of physical pain but at least I hope I have given her a very small amount of mental comfort. At least she knows I care and that I am there if she wants me, and if she doesn’t want me then I completely understand.
So although I can’t put myself in the same physical pain, to some extent I can connect with her thoughts and feelings and in that way do the best that I can for her.
Taking the time to stop and put ourselves in someone else’s shoes takes presence of mind. If we are rushing through life in a blur because we are so busy then we are really unlikely to achieve empathy. Empathy takes some thought and even then it is really hard. The golden rule seems to be to treat others as you would want to be treated.
Taking time to clear your mind through meditation and through mindful living really helps in the quest to become more empathetic. When we think clearly it becomes much more possible to place ourselves in the shoes of others and to recognise the feelings this creates.
Come on a Revitalise Day to start thinking clearly and to improve your relations with those who you care about. You will wonder why you didn’t do it sooner.