A Few Words on Empathy, and How to Humanize the World Before Us
“Forgive everyone for your own sins, and be sure to tell them you love them which you do.” - Jack Kerouac
Empathy is a creative process, which we have previously discussed as a way of connecting our inner selves with the outer world. Empathy, derived from the Greek word empatheia is the act of seeing oneself in objects or persons. It came to be by the philosopher Theodor Lipps, who was curious of the strong affect induced in people by art. He believed that the impact of art didn’t lie in the work of art itself, but rather, it is a synthesis made by the viewer, viewing the art. It is the recognition of a part of ourselves in something else, and a part of something else in us. It is a movement both inward and outward, the colourful coalescence of two perspectives coming together to form an experience, to bring to light, a connection.
“Whenever you are about to find fault with someone, ask yourself the following question: What fault of mine most nearly resembles the one I am about to criticize?” – Marcus Aurelius, Meditations
Empathy is one of the ways we confront the unknown and familiarize it, judgement is another. It is easier to judge the unknown than empathize with it, for it gives one an illusion of control. The unknown however, is something beyond our control. We’re quick to judge not only others, but our very selves as well. When we judge ourselves, our inner dialogue becomes static, we become disconnected from our experience because we are outside judging it rather than living it. This is a dangerous thing, because it limits our potential of becoming, it halts the exploration of our innermost self. Judgement though isn’t necessarily a bad thing. It only becomes counteractive when it’s based on ourselves and others, when it gets personal. Rather than extending judgement on ourselves, or another, we should contain our judgments for happenstance, for situations. This helps us to look at things more objectively, allowing us to choose a more constructive way to approach what’s at hand. It will also help in escaping similar situations that we, ourselves create, priming us for the ones we don’t.
We judge, because we are afraid to imagine the possibilities of the world, because we are afraid to lose control, because we are not secure enough with ourselves to welcome a perspective outside our own. It is evident then, that we must learn about who we are, that we have to come to an understanding and face the person that we are. Yet, it is at times a difficult and vulnerable position, to look deep within, especially at the grit, without taking it hard. However it is in this very act that we find empathy for ourselves, it is in this very act that our weaknesses transform into strength. Empathy is a choice, it is an acceptance of what we are, and it is the realization of what we could be.
“I do not ask the wounded person how he feels, I myself become the wounded person.” Walt Whitman, Song of Myself
This realization of our own person tears off the screen of black and white hanging upon our brow, the world then starts accumulating colour. Our two dimensional view of people, of things, start becoming more prismatic. We are no longer afraid to picture being something else, someone else, because we are not afraid of losing ourselves in that experience, instead, we draw from our being, from our feelings, from our experiences to relate and to connect; to imagine. Empathy then becomes an effortless practice of choosing to understand, rather than the delivery of judgement.
“You do not see the world as it is. You see it as you are.” – Anais Nin
All that we see is but a reflection of who we are, of our countless facets. This is because in an experience, what we see, is a choice, we are choosing a perception, an angle. It is a choice made by us, which reflects on us, rather than the other. What we are attracted to, become reflections of the selves that we wish to be, of the things that we ourselves wish to emulate within us, or traits that we value and wish to strengthen. We can now start seeing the world for what it is, and for what it can be. It is a mirror that challenges our creativity, our capacity to imagine, and our will to become.
Empathy brings the hammer to walls that we have built, based on fear, insecurity, doubt, judgement. Empathy beckons us to channel these things, and to rise above, connecting with the world outside our heads, to reach beyond the surface and into the heart of things. It is at last conceding to our humanity, a practice in humanizing the world before us. And it will help us in delivering the best course of action, regarding others, and most importantly, ourselves.