Practice Empathy

Empathy“Opinion is really the lowest form of human knowledge. It requires no accountability, no understanding. The highest form of knowledge is empathy, for it requires us to suspend our egos and live in another’s world. It requires profound purpose larger than the self-kind of understanding.” –Bill Bullard

The observation that “opinions are like belly buttons; everybody has one,” is probably truer now that at any time in history. With the advent of social media, anyone can get on Facebook or Twitter and vent on any subject. Hiding behind the anonymity of the Internet, people spew venom on anything and everything. Everyone is an expert on everything!

But, do we ever take the time to walk in someone else’s shoes, to really get to know them, their problems, their frame of reference?

Do we have empathy for others?

We are not talking about sympathy, but empathy. Sympathy is having been there, done that. Empathy requires that we put ourselves in their shoes, even though we have never experienced their situation.

Although the word empathy doesn’t appear in the bible, the bible has a lot to teach us about empathy:

God, our Creator, empathizes with us. “As a father has compassion on his children, so the LORD has compassion on those who fear him. For he knows how we are formed, remembers that we are dust.” — Psalm 103:13-14

Jesus is our model of empathy. “When he disembarked and saw the vast crowd, his heart was moved with pity for them, and he cured their sick.” –Matthew 14:14

“At the sight of the crowds, his heart was moved with pity for them because they were troubled and abandoned, like sheep without a shepherd.” –Matthew 9:36

Jesus showed a great compassion because of his ability to empathize with the crowds. He is sensitive to others needs and is moved to action.

Empathy (kindness) is a virtue. “Finally, all of you, be of one mind, sympathetic, loving toward one another, compassionate, humble.” –1 Peter 3:8

“Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep.” –Romans 12:15

Being empathetic and reaching out to others requires us to walk in their shoes.

So, what can we, as Christians, do to be more empathetic?

  1. We must practice active listening. We’ve got to really listen to what others are saying and even though we may have never experienced what they are going through. We must work to put ourselves in their place.
  2. Share in others joy and heartbreak. Are we really happy for their good fortunes? Are we really moved to compassion in their weeping?
  3. We must be mindful in the moment. Mindfulness requires us not to be quick to judge, but to be non-judgmental and taking our time to focus on the emotions, thoughts and sensations occurring in the present moment. Our opinions can wait!

Before you flame someone’s opinion on social media with an all-caps rant, take a minute to put yourself in their shoes. If you do, I’m sure your response with be mindful and have more empathy.

And when you meet strangers, especially those that might be from different cultures, speak different languages, and have different religious beliefs, try being curious. Jesus provides several examples of breaking with the rules of the day and showing empathy, especially with strangers.

You might be surprised that by seeking this higher form of knowledge, you’ll not have more empathy for others, but strengthen your Christian faith, as well. You will better understand the needs of people around you and be more likely to treat the people you care about the way they wish you would treat them. And more importantly, you will more clearly understand the perception you create in others with your words and actions.

Let’s practice empathy.

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