Empathy Alone Won't Solve The World's Problems -  But It's a Start

Toby Hazlewood

Focus more on we, less on me

A group holding handsPhoto by Melissa Askew on Unsplash

It feels as though the world is in dire need of help if we’re to get back on some sort of stable and united track.

Thanks to Covid, Brexit and the Trump years not to mention widespread wars, political and civil unrest, we humans seem more fractured and inward looking than at any other point in living memory.

We try and show concern for the collective whole, worrying what the future might look like for society but it’s often of secondary concern. Most have enough to deal with the day-to-day let alone trying to confront the bigger picture or working out what part they can play in fixing it.

We hear the rhetoric that Covid won’t be beaten until we’re all vaccinated — but we’re understandably focused on when we and our loved ones will be protected. The fate of those on foreign shores is of secondary concern.

We know there are millions around the world who have lost their incomes and are struggling to make rent and buy food. There were many others the world over who faced such struggles even before Covid was a thing. That there are many others who are worse-off is of little comfort when money seems scarce for us too.

We want to protect the health of ourselves and our families. We want to continue to provide for those we love. We want to make provisions for our future and to believe in a future beyond working and living hand to mouth.

It’s hard to contemplate such things without our focus drawing inward.

We want to be good citizens but in the face of such pressures it’s easy to feel like we’re in the midst of a fight, a survival of the fittest. Life seems like a competition for scarce-resources and rare-opportunities. Our fellow humans often seem more like foes than friends.

Against such a backdrop of global events, it’s easy to see where the division and selfishness have come from. Humankind is crying out to reconnect with each other. We need as a society to foster communication, co-operation and cohesiveness.

At least part of the antidote to this — to live with a little more empathy and consideration for our fellow humans.

To focus more on WE and less on ME.

The power of empathy

Empathy comes about when we put ourselves in the shoes and the minds of others. We try and imagine their difficulties and sympathize to their struggles and motivations. We picture ourselves facing their challenges and try to understand how they might be feeling. It helps us to predict their mood and to gauge their way of thinking.

Everyone has hopes, dreams, expectations and fears which drive their actions and decisions. One person may be driven by securing food and shelter for their family, another by the acquisition of wealth. We can argue over whose motivations are more meaningful or powerful, but the only way to understand and relate to each other is through empathy.

We may not end up agreeing with each other — but it helps to at least foster a mutual understanding and maybe a mutual acceptance too.

Empathy is the root of genuine and meaningful connection, the basis of collective understanding and at root of a functioning society.

Right now, it feels like that’s sorely lacking within and between many groups in society.

Empathy may not heal rifts between rich and poor, Democrat and Republican or between nations in the developed and developing worlds. But mass changes start with the individual — we must each live with more empathy towards each other as a starting point to change.

Holding handsPhoto by Christopher Alvarenga on Unsplash

It starts with each of us

I have enormous scope to ‘do’ empathy better — I suspect that many others do too.

When I’m feeling hurt, misunderstood, let-down, neglected, taken-for-granted or like I don’t fit-in, I wish that others were more empathetic to me and my needs. Mentally, I put it on them to do better when it should be a circular relationship of giving empathy as well as taking — of treating others as we wish to be treated. It’s not them or me — it’s us.

  • Empathy helps us communicate and share information in a way that’s appropriate to the situation.
  • It helps us relate, to understand and accept behaviors, motivations and fears and as a result to connect, or at least treat each other with respect and consideration. We may not agree or sympathize with all who we treat with empathy, but understanding is better than ignorance.
  • Empathy helps us to ensure that we’re giving others what they need from us and heightens the chances of getting what we need from them in return.

More we, less me

Much about modern life encourages us to be insular and focused on self. We build social-media personas that portray how we want the world to see us. We carefully curate images that represent our best-selves and our best-lives and invest our energies in maintaining that illusion.

An insular focus is unrewarding though, and leaves the soul under-nourished.

We need human connection, to feel like part of a tribe, to contribute to a greater good and to believe that our efforts are appreciated and beneficial to others besides ourselves. That connection begins with empathy and mutual acceptance of others.

Being part of a collective is to give all that we can for the good of others besides ourselves, and to believe they will do the same.

We all have to play our part in making our communities stronger, and the world a better place — that starts with empathy for our fellow human — being concerned about we as well as me.

Baby steps of progress

The healing of division and strengthening of societal bonds begins with small changes.

We must seek to understand and respect others, not merely to strive for our own betterment and advancement. We need to feel others’ challenges and then imagine how we can help to overcome them.

It will take empathy.

The benefits are felt when it enables us to form stronger mutual connections. Communication comes more easily and mutual win-wins emerge — such experiences remind us that life is not a zero-sum game where one person has to lose so that the other can win. We can all win.

Our challenge right now is to figure out how to adopt and embed greater empathy in our lives. Empathy, along with seeking to be better educated and informed about others’ positions and drives in life will help the divisions of our age to begin to heal.

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