Written by Master of Science by Research (Health Sciences) candidate, Neil Josen Delos Reyes.
Empathy comes naturally for some people – so naturally that they might describe it as ‘a walk in the park’. However, it’s important to keep in mind that at the core of empathy is relating to someone else, so this ‘park’ is not their own, and they have no control over the journey or the destination.
Simply described, empathy is putting oneself in someone’s shoes – understanding their experiences, and relating to the emotions they’ve felt throughout. Because this week is Kindness Week here at Bond University, I thought I’d explore the concept of empathy a little more, and break down why this is such an important ‘soft skill’ to have when navigating university, the workplace and beyond.
Walking in someone else’s park
Walking in your own park is as easy as finding the entrance, paving your way, and identifying the destination. On the other hand, walking in someone else’s park – or showing empathy – first requires you to understand where they’re coming from. You’ve got to try to comprehend their circumstances and really think about the factors that have led them to where they are. If, for instance, a friend is feeling homesick, ponder what it would be like if you were in the same situation. What emotions would you be feeling? How would you deal with them?
One of the things empathy fosters is a better understanding of one another, and overall, the uniquely human characteristics that we share. While you might life a completely different life to the person you’re empathising with, chances are you’ve felt similar emotions or gone through likeminded things.
How empathy helps us grow
Showing empathy is often viewed as an act that only benefits the empathised, but in fact, it’s a crucial skill to develop that will benefit you (as the person empathising) throughout your entire life. Empathy, most importantly, creates an opportunity for growth through reflection. Understanding how other people live, react, feel, make decisions and more only leads to better perception of the world and an ability to work and get along with anyone. This is important as we venture into the workplace, especially because our generation are, more and more, living in echo chambers due to social media. Without empathy, it’s easy to get stuck in your own ways and not develop any understanding of others’.
Of course, empathy has its other benefits, too. It’s key to making people feel at ease, and consequently, developing strong and trustful relationships with others. At university and in the workplace, this comes in handy, as you’ll be interacting with an array of people from different backgrounds, cultures and lived experiences. When people feel like they can rely on you to provide a listening ear or a helping hand, your relationships will become deeper and more meaningful, and will fill your own emotional cup as a result.
Lastly, empathy can help you figure out new directions and paths to take as you ‘walk in your own park’ rather than someone else’s. The lessons learned from others can inform our own lives and ultimately provide the guidance and support necessary to make important decisions. For instance, an empathetic exchange with a friend going through a tough time might encourage you to be more grateful in your daily life, or to pursue the things that spark excitement in you more. Every conversation is a chance for growth if you only look at it that way.
Beware of trespassing
Of course, when strolling in someone else’s park, be careful not to overstep – straying outside the lines, or leaving the park altogether, as it were. Remember that your own park is always there and needs tending, too. Empathy shouldn’t force you as the empathiser to take on the problems of another and feel obliged to come up with solutions. We’re all in charge of our own lives, and empathy is just a tool to show someone you care and understand what they are going through, whether that’s based on your own lived experience or by showing emotional intelligence by putting yourself in their shoes.
As our world is constantly flipped on its head, empathy is more important than ever – you never know what the people around you may be going through. Of course, showing empathy to someone is a reciprocal process. The more you connect with those around you on this deeper level, the more they’ll be likely to exhibit empathy when you need advice or support. Empathy is an undeniably important soft skill, so sharpen it up where you can by relating to people and putting yourself in their shoes, and it’ll serve you well throughout your life.
It’s Kindness Week here at Bond, making now the perfect time to show empathy to others. How will you get started?
Kindness Week at Bond
Bond’s inaugural Kindness Week is running from 25 – 29 October, 2021, celebrating how kindness can improve our lives as well as recognising those within our community who have made a difference through simple acts of kindness.