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Nobody Cares? (A Few Thoughts on Empathy)

I had to get closer to see the bumper sticker on the car in front of me. I wish I hadn't. Stick figure people were being tossed into the air by a car plowing through the crowd. The caption said, "Nobody cares about your protest." (Pause, while I absorb what I saw and collect my thoughts.)

I think I know what it was about, which made it all the more horrific. After my emotions subsided a little, I started thinking about empathy and my sense that it is in serious decline. I could offer several pages full of evidence for my opinion. The political arena comes to mind first, but empathy is lacking in many other areas as well. On just about any subject you'll find people responding to opinions they find disagreeable with insults, mockery, and little effort at engaging in meaningful conversation.

Whether empathy is truly on the decline or low-empathy voices are just louder, I confess that I'm often discouraged but I'm not giving up hope. While some people may feel emboldened by the coarseness of today's social environment, my personal experience is that most people are kind, decent, and empathetic. They truly care about other people.

Empathy is not squishy sentimental feelings. Neither is it the same as sympathy. Empathy allows us to understand and share the feelings of others. The ability to understand another person is the basis for deep and fulfilling relationships.

Empathy also proves to be an essential asset in business relationships. There is compelling evidence showing that companies that want to prosper would do well to foster a culture of empathy. According to the World Economic Forum's Future of Jobs Report, emotional intelligence will be one of the top 10 job skills in 2020

Having worked in the field of emotional intelligence for over twenty years, Harvey Deutschendorf writes,

" People with high emotional intelligence are able to use their sensitivity to where others are coming from to build trust and cohesiveness. This allows teams to focus on the task at hand rather than become embroiled in internal bickering and politics. Their sensitivity to the needs of others acts as a lubricant that helps team members work together." read more

An 80-year longitudinal study by Harvard Medical School offers compelling evidence for the value of strong relationships for overall health and well-being.

"The surprising finding is that our relationships and how happy we are in our relationships has a powerful influence on our health," said Robert Waldinger, director of the study, a psychiatrist at Massachusetts General Hospital and a professor of psychiatry at Harvard Medical School. "Taking care of your body is important, but tending to your relationships is a form of self-care too. That, I think, is the revelation." read more

So, that cantankerous, argumentative, always-disagreeable person would do well to work on developing their empathy, even if they only do it for themselves.

As often happens, what appear to be new discoveries have actually been around for a long time. Distilling the "most important thing" down to relationships, Jesus said that the two greatest commandments are to love God and love others. It's hard to imagine how that can be done without empathy. It surely wouldn't create a bumper sticker that says, "nobody cares."

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