Four practical ways to apply and strengthen your empathy

 

  1. “I’m not invisible.”

 

When you travel through airports, notice people who may seem invisible to most people.

For example, have you ever paid attention to the cleaning lady/ man in airport bathrooms? Their job is to keep the bathroom, clean, sanitised, and pleasant enough for us to visit. Can you imagine how awful an airport bathroom could become in just one day, if these people didn’t do their jobs?

So take the time to go out of your way to say hello and thank you and that you value their contribution. It may well and truly make their day.

 

 Whenever possible and when interacting with others, try to erase the “in” from “invisible.”

 

  1. “I’m still in here.”

 

A carer in a recent coaching session told me the following story.

Laura worked in a setting that cares for people with dementia. She shared that a lady she supports with dementia was at a medical appointment. The lady’s daughter was with her at the appointment. The doctor carried on for quite some time and handed out an excessive amount of diagnostic observations, medical terminology, and advice to the daughter. The mother waited patiently for this very educated doctor to finish. He then asked the daughter if she had any questions about her mother’s situation.

The mother with dementia said, “I’m still in here. So now that you told my daughter all that stuff, can you please tell me?”

 

Are there people around us, in particular, the elderly who we ignore or who suffer from age related illnesses that may need to be acknowledged in a different way?

 

  1. “I still matter.”

 

Have you ever had contact with the homeless? Have you ever crossed to the other side of the street, or redirected your gaze to avoid eye contact, and pretended they were not really there?

Sadly, thousands of people experience their first homeless night each year. No matter what circumstances led to their homelessness — eviction, foreclosure, unemployment, addiction, mental illness, domestic violence — being homeless for that first night is painful.

 

Homeless people do not need or deserve our pity, just our respect.

Try to no longer avoid the homeless, or pretend they don’t exist.

 

Imagine you are going through a personal crisis, and you no longer have access to money or a place to stay. What would you do?

 

  1. I’m not stupid.”

 

A number of years ago at a school for students with special needs, I had a conversation with a teenage student. Robert was a person with Down syndrome. He asked to talk to me one day. He said:

“Hey, Tereza. I know I am not all that smart because I have that syndrome thing, and guess I will have it for quite a while. But I just hate it when people talk to me like I am stupid.”

I learned a lot from a very perceptive young man that day.

 

How do we treat others based on our judgement on how they act, look and their disabilities, that we really know very little about? How can we treat those with special needs with more dignity and respect? How can we model this behaviour for our children?

 

Remember: We have choices. Empathy is a choice.

We have choices each and every day with those we encounter within our circle of influence, our work, and our life space. They may have had different opportunities than we have had.

When provided the chance, consider what you can do to help others become more visible; how you can talk to, not through others; how you can respect, not disrespect a person in need; and how to value, not devalue those who do not appear just like us.