Empathy is defined as “the ability to understand and share the feelings of others”. A study by the University of Michigan found that college students today are showing less empathy than previous decades, a 40% decline in fact.
It is important to note the difference between empathy and sympathy. Sympathy is the acknowledgement of another’s hardship and providing them comfort and assurance. Whereas empathy is the ability to put yourself in someone else’s shoes.
This decline in empathy is known as the “empathy deficit” – titled by the leader of the study. This has impacted our day to day interactions with our friends, peers and workplace. In a political parties class I took, we talked about how this lack of empathy has translated into the divisiveness of our country on all levels: governmental, professional and even a personal level. We are too bound up in protecting and claiming our beliefs that it blindsides us to open the door to see why someone might think differently than us. The lack of empathy prohibits us from being able to see something from different perspectives and try to understand others; instead, we shut them out.
Being an empathetic person makes you a better friend, better worker and better thinker. The ability to put yourself in someone else’s shoes allows you to think with a more open minded perspective and approach problems in a more inclusive way which is so important in today’s diversifying world.
This can first start in the classroom. Listening to classmates in a way where you are actively trying to understand where they are coming from and why they come to certain conclusions by placing yourself in their shoes, is far more fulfilling than focusing on your specific belief on an issue. It can allow you to open your mind and feel the experiences of others to get a better sense of who they are and what they have gone through.
Having empathy is so important because it allows us to be able to relate to one another in our experiences more and validate feelings we have. It opens us up to one another to be there for eachother during the good and bad times. It is deeper than providing comfort and sympathy because it bonds people by relating similar feelings we all have even though our experiences are different .
I guess what I am trying to say is that we all should try to act and think a bit more empathetically. Trying to understand one another is the key to ensuring everyone can be heard in a way that is appreciated and noticed. So to start, I encourage you next time one of your peers or friends or even your mom is telling you about a situation or simple problem, look at it more empathetically – actively listen and place yourself in their position. It will not only change the way you look at the situation, but could really help them too.