A Simple Core Truth for Building Empathy

A Simple Core Truth for Building Empathy

Photo by Vackground on Unsplash

Black and white, empty and dense, quiet and loud, clear and opaque, positive and negative, everything in life occurs somewhere on a spectrum.

These spectrums are often subject to artificial boundaries set up by humans using definitions (like republican or democrat) to simply communication.

This is done to improve efficiency of communication because it’s too complex to explain where one point on the spectrum is located relative to the other infinite positions.

CIE xy chromaticity diagram

If we evaluate the color spectrum, it would take too long to describe how much different the color red is relative to every other color on the spectrum.

We simplify it by limiting the set of assumptions within which to consider for evaluation & communication and only compare to one or two other points (red and how much different it may be then the color black or white).

This limited set of assumptions fails to acknowledge the color red in its entirety. It is always a simplification or a shortcut.

We are bound to these simplifications and too often we mistake these simplifications for truth.

This reference point is almost never agreed upon in life today and it can prevent us from understanding where someone else is coming from or failing to be empathetic.

For example, if a person shows up to work late and poorly performs, an uninformed observer may make judgements about that person’s capability or value.

However, we may not know that this person didn’t sleep the night before, was threatened with an eviction, recently was kicked out of their home, had a death in the family, or any of the millions of reasons that humans are impacted on conscious and unconscious levels.

When someone says ‘I’m struggling’ — our first reaction is to deductively judge their situation in hopes of understanding why that person may be struggling.

We use the information available to us (things we have seen or are aware of) to make a judgement or assessment about the truthfulness or validity of the situation.

But our information is always incomplete. Our reference points are a minuscule portion of the entirely of the reference points influencing the situation.

It is very easy to jump to conclusions about the validity of what we are observing and make assumptions, good or bad, about what we are seeing.

In these scenarios, it can be helpful to take a moment and put yourself in the other persons shoes, but this is often a talent that we often don’t teach or reward and so it goes undervalued & underutilized.

Buzz-worthy internet content like Brene Brown’s TEDx talk on vulnerability, various tools for building empathy, or tricks to become more self-aware are trying to equip people to take that pause, be more understanding, or less reactionary and more thoughtful.

But we are often still very unskilled at this when approaching others.

And we are often even less forgiving or skilled at doing this for ourselves.

Humans have been told that we should have the answers to our questions and we should know who we are and what we want.

But how often do we really understand all of the forces that were impacting those people who have had the biggest impact on us?

Do we understand what it was like to be our parents or guardians? Do we know how they were raised, how they felt when they were a child, or what they had to go through to get to where they are today?

Do we definitively know how those experiences are translated through to us?

No, we don’t understand, we cannot understand understand entirely.

Just as giving more grace to the co-worker, teacher, student, or classmate, can we give that same pause, that same grace, to ourselves?

If we give that same grace to ourselves, if we approach ourselves with a non-judgmental curiosity, wouldn’t that practice internally be the fastest way to practice showing up with that same grace in the rest of the world?

Why fault others for reaching out and asking for help if we know we don’t know the whole situation?

Why would we fault ourselves if we know that not even I know my whole story or all the reference points acting In my life?

— Adam @thatmhg

www.avalo.app find other people online who don’t know your story and won’t judge if you want to talk through it. Free, non-judgmental mental health support.

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