Updated February 9, 2019
Raising three children to be confident, kind and compassionate beings is a joint duty for my husband and me. To help guide our efforts, the Golden Rule is often recited in our household. There’s a reason the Golden Rule has survived thousands of years and been used to guide numerous belief systems throughout history. It’s such a powerful mantra because it is a short, concise sentiment that contains genuine meaning. The idea of doing unto others as you would have them do unto you is a simple, yet effective, reminder of how you should approach life if you desire positive results. This tiny nugget of truth is the bedrock of empathy. Embracing it can benefit you in tremendous ways. Read on to gain clear insight on how to treat others the way you would want to be treated and why you should.
Cultivate Empathy and Compassion
Without exception, empathy and compassion are necessary for living the Golden Rule. What may not be so clear is just how you can do that in order to form a habit. An effective way to elicit these feelings is to employ mindfulness and awareness of your surroundings. You can boost this practice by making a visual representation of the Golden Rule (e.g. a picture of helping hands) and placing it somewhere you will see it each day. This little reminder can have big results when it comes to influencing your actions. With the idea of focusing on others at the forefront, pay attention to what’s going on around you. Look for clues regarding the experiences of others such as facial expressions, voice tone and actions. If you notice behavior that doesn’t reflect someone’s words, chances are they may be experiencing a problem. By practicing your awareness, you’ll begin to better recognize emotions in others, which can be the catalyst toward wanting to understand their experience and alleviate their pain.
Put Yourself in Their Shoes
Being attuned to other’s emotions can lead you to more easily identifying with them, even if their experience is completely different from your own. The truth is that there are some things that are just universal. We all have similar needs in terms of human connection, feelings of security, a desire to useful and expressions of love. Pull from your own reservoir of fundamental experiences in order to imagine what the person in front of you is going through. This realization of similar human life pursuits may be just the push you needed to fully embrace a care for your fellow man.
Listen and Reflect
In order to gain a sense of what someone else is feeling, you must proactively work to gain insight from their point of view. Some people may possess strong intuitive skills or have a knack for connecting with anyone around them. If you struggle to relate to what others are experiencing, you may find that improving your capacity to listen can go a long way toward removing blockages. The art of active or purposeful listening is a skill that can be enhanced. The following steps will show you how to incorporate this valuable technique into your life:
- Be Present. Mindfulness and being engaged in the moment are necessary parts of actively listening to someone else. It’s easy to get wrapped up in thoughts of the pressing matters that are most concerning to you, but doing so prevents you from taking in the message your conversation partner is trying to deliver. Make a concerted effort to put your own issues aside to focus intently on what the other person is saying. In addition to taking in their words, be sure to look for other clues about their state of mind such as rate of speech, body language, voice pitch and facial expressions. This type of multi-tasking is necessary in order to gain the most from an interaction.
- Consider Your Experience. Once you have an understanding of the matter at hand, you can then put yourself in the other person’s shoes and think about the ways you might experience that situation. Because you were mindful while they were talking, you were likely able to pick up on clues that can deepen your ability to empathize and relate. This exercise in empathy should elicit some actual feelings regarding the situation, which can be a powerful tool in further guiding your understanding.
- Reflect. While considering the ways you would feel or react to a certain scenario is a good start toward gaining strong listening skills, you can take that even further by checking in for accuracy. Reflect what the person just said back to them by paraphrasing, or summarizing, what it is you heard. They can then let you know whether your perception is correct or if you’re a bit off track. Feel free to ask for clarification, as this lets them know you are sincerely interested in what they have to say.
- Use Your Curiosity. Be eager to learn about this person’s point of view and experience. Chances are you’ll learn something and see a familiar issue from in a new light. The way someone else experiences a problem is probably much different than the way you might. Probe further to discover the kinds of factors that are at play in their scenario. Ask questions about these dynamics to get a better picture of what’s influencing the situation. Allow your inquisitive side to lead the way, being careful not to become too intrusive. Periodically, check to make sure the individual is comfortable in sharing.
Being a perceptive observer and listener is key to gaining empathy and compassion. Affirming the lived experience of another without prejudice or argumentation can facilitate trust. It’s not always easy to offer other people the same kind of courtesy we’d like to receive; but, when it comes down to it, we’re all humans just trying to get by and to be happy. This understanding can overcome many obstacles.
Call to Action: Do you live by a mantra related to empathy and compassion that was instilled in you during your childhood? How has that impacted your life?
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