Choosing Empathy


One of my favourite teachings about relationships comes from Marianne Williamson.  She says that we should view all of our interactions and the behaviour of others as coming from either a CALL FOR LOVE  or an EXPRESSION OF LOVE ♥.  This is a very powerful idea and can help us to choose empathy.

What is Empathy?


Empathy is the ability to understand where another person is coming from.  I love the definition in the image above as it includes the use of our ability to put ourselves in someone else’s shoes to guide OUR actions.  This is very powerful.

We can choose how we will react and respond to others. 

It’s easy to imagine being empathetic to a person who we feel sorry for or sympathetic towards.  What is more challenging however is to find empathy towards someone who is behaving negatively towards us.  Picture that person who is very angry and lashes out at you.  An angry driver or a stranger who snaps at you or treats you rudely.  Choosing empathy in these situations requires us to look to a bigger picture of what is actually going on.   We need to go beyond our own ego and feelings of insult or hurt to question what would cause a person to behave this way? They are most certainly not demonstrating a loving attitude so this must be, according to Williamson, a CALL for LOVE.  What wounds, what history – either recent or from the past – is this person carrying?

For me this is a very, very powerful thing.   The ability to stop negativity in its tracks and to actually have a profound effect on others.  Imagine the possibilities.  When someone is rude or angry towards you you can choose to react and respond back with your own anger or disapproval.  And it is not to say you wouldn’t be justified in doing so!   However, if you can view this person with compassion – with empathy – and could respond back with softness and grace – what difference could that make to that person?  What example would you be setting for others? What ripple effect could your compassion have going forward?  Could you stop the chain of negativity perhaps?

I can remember a time when someone treated me with love when I was not being very loveable.  I was hurt and angry and lashing out.  Yet they loved me anyways and it was something I will never forget.  When someone can witness your darkness and still love you – that kind of unconditional love and understanding – it touches you in a way that has a profound impact.  Have you ever experienced forgiveness or empathy of this kind?  How did that affect you?

I encourage you to contemplate this ability to choose empathy.  In the moments that you judge others – catch yourself and look for alternative explanations – is that person really bad?  lazy? a bad parent? a bad person?  Or could they be a person who really needs understanding, kindness, forgiveness, and love?  Could they be doing their best?  Could they be deserving of your understanding and support?   How can you choose to respond to that call for love?

Imagine a person who has done the most unthinkable, horrible things.  A criminal.  When I think of that person, I remember that this was somebody’s baby.  This was an innocent child once.  What has happened in that person’s life to lead them to become this person today?  Can I understand the circumstances that have led this person to be so clearly damaged as to be capable of what they are doing?

This is also very powerful work when looking at family dynamics. If you have struggled to understand your parent or sibling – perhaps taking the time to research their history and what experiences they have lived through may give you a different perspective on what they were capable of giving in return…

Think of a person or situation in your life that you have judged negatively.  Someone you have experienced conflict with for example.  How can you put yourself in their shoes?  What do you imagine they are feeling? thinking?   What could have happened in their life that has made them behave, think or feel this way?  Can you have empathy for them?  It doesn’t mean you necessarily approve of what they’re doing or saying.  It could however help you to choose how you will RESPOND to this person in the future.  Can you show compassion, understanding and love to those people who may seem to be the most unloveable?

Food for thought ♥


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