Let’s do a little reflecting, shall we?
I want you to think about your Facebook feed or any news channel you’ve watched in the last 24 hours.
How did you feel after taking it all in?
Were you fired up? Outraged? Saddened? Distressed?
Were you joyful? Energized? Inspired? Or enlightened?
While I hope it was the latter, if you’re like me, today’s news’ stories and Facebook feeds seem to be filled with messages that leave us far from joyful and inspired.
Sure, we all saw that one feel-good story or a pic of our friend’s new baby, but that moment of joy was instantly overtaken by the vitriolic political post, or vehement bash of a company’s investment choices, or a terrifying recount of a hateful interaction.
How did we get here, my friend?
Something is missing in our world, and more importantly, in our relationships.
Dr. Jamil Zaki argues that we are losing the ability to empathize. And, as we become less and less empathetic, we begin to break down the common threads that hold us together.
This isn’t good news to a network builder, so let’s spend some time this week figuring out how to get our empathetic groove back.
THE SCIENCE OF EMPATHY
Think back to a time someone showed you empathy.
Maybe a boss showed concern over your wife’s diagnosis and told you to take the next week off.
Maybe a friend listened well to your latest parenting dilemma and offered helpful encouragement.
No matter what the situation was, you left feeling heard, seen, and cared for.
The problem is, in today’s world where feelings of loneliness are at an all-time high, one of the first human traits we lose is our ability to empathize.
Dr. Zaki says it best,
“The rules that encourage empathy are being broken. More than ever, humans are urban, isolated, and anonymous to each other. We meet irregularly, often in online spaces that privilege outrage and leave cruelty unpunished. We are increasingly tribal, and sometimes view outsiders not as human beings but as symbols of ideas and groups we fear and hate. And when we learn about tragedy, it’s often as an abstraction. We might hear about thousands of people affected by a disaster or civil war, but think of them only as faceless statistics, without any way to access their emotions.”
One study showed that the average human in 2009 was less empathic than 75% of humans 30 years prior.
As people who value relationships, we MUST be better. While the decline of empathy may feel depressing, we have the ability to change the tide. And if we can, the results are inspiring.
Studies have shown when we dole about empathy in spades, we:
Furthermore, studies have found that patients with highly empathic doctors report greater satisfaction with their quality of care and employees of highly empathic bosses report less stress in the workplace.
So just how do we bring empathy back in style? Let’s talk strategy...
TIPS AND TRICKS
While our world’s current state of affairs might not be fertile soil for empathy to thrive, there is still good news.
Dr. Zaki’s research has shown that we can increase our own ability to empathize by doing three things:
Meditate: We know our brains are powerful machines. And with the right focus, we can shift our attention to anything we desire. In one study, participants practiced loving-kindness meditation for 9 months and the part of their brain that expresses empathy increased in volume as participants chose to be conscious of their empathic abilities.
Read Stories: Storytelling is transformative because it introduces us to new characters and creatures (fiction or non) who offer a different perspective than our singular human experience allows. Studies have shown that people who spend a lot of time reading have a better understanding of others.
Be a Friend: Dr. Zaki says, “Empathy dissolves when we see the world in terms of ‘us and them,’ but it recovers just as quickly when we return to ‘you and I.’ Decades of research demonstrate that when people make close, personal contact with members of other groups, under the right conditions, they experience less prejudice. This is in part because they find it easier to empathize with that individual’s perspective and—by extension—with their group as a whole.”
Empathy is a muscle. It can be strengthened and toned through consistent use. But, it can also deteriorate if it’s never exercised.
This week, let’s up our superconnector status by bringing empathy back—in our homes, workplaces, friendships, and networks. And then maybe, just maybe, we can turn the empathetic tides for good.