Exercising Empathy

Exercising Empathy

Modern society teaches us that success is attained through individual achievements. Moreover, these triumphs are generally possible only through comparison, by doing better than others. But this type of success can only take us so far. It’s been said it’s lonely at the top, but when we shut ourselves off from trying to understand and appreciate others, it’s lonely at all levels. Relating to other people as more than just our competition opens up a door to better relationships, expanded perspective and a deeper understanding of the world. Foster empathy instead of narcissism and you will improve your quality of life. In addition to the techniques we recommended in Brain Wash, here are a two more ways to build your empathy and displace narcissism.

Perspective shift. It’s so easy judge others for their words, actions and appearances. We make snap decisions about the relative intelligence and value of those around us based on their political and religious affiliations, or even their choices in clothing. Differences can lead us to feel disdain, anger or a sense of superiority. These moments are a wonderful time to incorporate an empathetic practice. Next time you find yourself judging another person for something they have said, done or the way they look, try to picture what things look like from their perspective. Remember that their environments and life experiences are likely completely different from yours, and that they, like you, are only trying to make the most of the challenges of life. You can also try to reframe your view of the other person by focusing on all the things you have in common.

Create a new filter. The modern world is constantly subjecting us to polarizing media. Most news channels happily provide us with the confirmation we need to deepen our dislike of half of the country. Our political leaders do a great job convincing us of the same principle by espousing black and white rhetoric. Limiting your exposure to explicitly polarizing media on TV, radio, print, and online will help lower the unhealthy impact of these influences in our life. Create a filter to keep out anti-empathy rhetoric, and stop letting yourself be swayed by this type of toxic thinking.

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Mark Hyman, MD