The ability to understand and share the feelings of another.
To some people, empathy comes easily. To others, it is a completely foreign concept.
Have you known (or perhaps this describes you) somebody who just knows their way is the right way? They aren’t even willing to entertain the feelings or opinions of others. They can be tough to get along with, to work with, to live with.
I seek to take the feelings, ideas, and opinions of others into consideration as I go through my day-to-day life. I must admit, however, some days this is easier to accomplish than others.
Keep in mind, people can experience the exact same event, yet have vastly different reactions or opinions of the event! Think of a sporting event where there is a clear winning team and a clear losing team. Same event, but very different experiences for players and fans, right?? Or how about a movie with your kids? They come out thinking it was the best movie EVER and you slept through half of it (I may be speaking from experience here!).
One example that comes to mind to me, from my years as a military spouse is moving! A change in duty station to my husband meant a new job, new command, new boss, new mission, and all the logistics involved with relocating the family. To me it meant organizing the house for the move, supervising the packing, unpacking the house, doing countless address changes, setting up the utilities, registering the vehicles, getting the kids settled into a new school, finding a new doctor, vet, hair stylist, etc.
To my kids, when they were little, it meant staying in hotels (sometimes with a swimming pool!), a road trip, new games/crafts for traveling, picking out their new room, and playing in the boxes at the new house. It also meant making new friends! I don’t want to downplay any stress involved with moving as a military child. It also meant saying goodbye to friends and a familiar school. But as a military child myself, I do speak from experience, the adventure outweighed the anxiety I might have felt.
Just because you have gone through a similar experience as somebody else, don’t ever for a moment think that you know exactly what they are going through. We all have our own set of beliefs and past experiences that mold our frame of reference. Back to the example of military moves, what might be fun and exciting to me may be traumatic for another person.
The best way to understand what somebody is going through is to ask them. Check in with your friends and loved ones to see how they are doing. Ask them how they are feeling. Extend this same curiosity and courtesy to strangers. You never know whose spirits you may lift by simply asking them how their day is going.
Don’t be afraid to put yourself in somebody else’s shoes. Ask them how they are, then try to understand from their perspective. In doing so, you will be able to extend more grace to others, yourself, and hopefully come away with more acceptance and a grateful heart.