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This week I was stunned (as I think most of us were) to hear about the passing of Robin Williams. It is so sad that a person known for bringing us such joy and laughter suffered such a private hell of sadness and depression. His suicide hit home the truth that we really don’t know what others are dealing with. Yes, he is is a celebrity and part of being a celebrity is that we all think we knew him. One of the reasons he touched so many lives was his ability to make us think that we knew him when we didn’t.
However, celebrity or not, the truth still holds that even in our every day lives…we think we know what others are dealing with when really we have no idea. So many of us wear 1,000 different masks to hide our true thoughts and emotions. Getting through those masks, building trust and compassion takes time. And these days we don’t have time to really connect with people, We don’t take the time to sit down and show up and make space for vulnerability, authenticity and empathy. So we make assumptions, snap judgements and use our past experience to shape what we think someone is dealing with. We offer quick advice, easy platitudes and the occasional hug rather than fully showing up, listening fully and offering empathy. The world would be a better place if we all practiced and built our empathy skills.
So what does empathy look like?
Teresa Wiseman has done some research on the subject of empathy and here are Theresa Wiseman’s four attributes of empathy:
- Perspective Taking: To be able to see the world as others see it. Being able to putt your own stuff (e.g.: opinions, life experience, advice) aside to see the situation through the other’s eyes.
- To be nonjudgmental: When we judge another person’s situation we discount their experience.
- To understand another person’s feelings: recognize that we are all unique and we all have different feelings around a similar situation. Someone might have different feelings than you–and that is OK.
- To communicate your understanding of that person’s feelings: As Brené Brown says: A statement of empathy never starts with the phrase, “At least you…” or “It could be worse…” instead try… “It sounds like you are in a hard place now. Tell me more about it.”
Empathy is a practiced skill–it isn’t something we know automatically. When we can be empathetic with someone we are giving them permission to take off one of their masks and fully show up for a brief time. The beauty of empathy and all of the live happier skills is when we mess up and don’t do it right–we can always ask for a do-over. We don’t have to offer it perfectly every time.
We will never know the pain and suffering that Robin Williams was experiencing. His tragic death has shined a light on the very real truth of depression and the idea that we never really know someone else’s pain. What we can do is make more time for empathy. Stop, show up and be present for other people. When we do allow others to fully show up with us, there is power in empathy.
Check out this very short, cute video on empathy–narrated by Brené Brown. If you are reading this via email click here.
If you want to learn more about Brené Brown’s Daring Greatly work–you can join me next week at an Intro to Daring Greatly Wednesdays check it out by clicking here.