There’s an ever-so subtle difference between Understanding and Empathy. While the former is a cognitive function of the brain and not necessarily conditional, the latter is more a matter of choice. Imagine a beggar asking for alms in a train compartment or in a waiting bus. Of course most passengers would understand his condition, but only a few would choose to give him a penny or more.
Understanding is more of an intellectual concept, while empathising is more action-oriented.
Empathy is when you identify yourself with another person’s situation or rather, put yourself into the shoes of another, you start seeing things from the latter’s perspective and almost feel the pangs of suffering and at once, set yourself into doing whatever you can to alleviate the pain, be it through a word or deed.
There is a personality trait called alexithymia wherein the individual CANNOT empathise with another’s feelings or express his own. There really is no problem with the understanding aspect but these individuals simply cannot emote. This condition hasn’t been categorised as a mental disorder so far, but the fact is it is difficult for such individuals to have healthy social lives.
Empathy helps us embrace the flaws and the strengths of so many different people that we come across. It paves the way for others to confide in us and helps us provide them with plausible solutions and suggestions to overcome apparently difficult situations they are in. It helps us relate to the maladies of the world, and in the process, appreciate the simple joys of life, which most of us take for granted.
In the increasing scenario of hatred and intolerance, empathy would be a breath of fresh air, to help spread messages of love and goodwill. So let’s hail this beautiful feeling and make this world a better place!
The first essential aspect in life would be to understand oneself. It would be quite an insight to realize our own vulnerabilities, because they are a part of what makes you YOU.
Just as you cannot comprehend yourself wholly, trying to understand others 100% is wishful thinking. Nevertheless, one’s basic nature can more or less be gauged based on:
- Reactions in various life situations
- The manner in expressing opinions and voicing thoughts and ideals
- Behaviour in times of adversity
- Gestures, postures, habits and hobbies, lifestyle
‘Talk less, listen more’, as the wise saying goes. The wise appreciate the beauty of silence. It doesn’t just help them have greater clarity of thoughts, but it also lends them chances to heed with greater attention, noting even the subtlest emotion in every note of one’s speech. That way, they pretty much read people’s minds!
Trying to understand a person doesn’t give you the right to be judgemental. On the contrary, it would require genuine empathy from your part. And that, in turn, involves looking at circumstances and situations from his/her perspective to have an awareness of what makes him/her behave or react in a particular manner. Empathy stems from genuine regard for another.
Having come to realize just how tough it is to get over our own defects, we might as well be more at peace accepting people as they are and not expecting too many drastic changes in them. Period!
Our world would certainly be a much better place if people did try to understand and empathise with each other and be more tolerant in their outlook. In the long run, we all agree that we wish to keep loving relationships with each other, rather than hatred and consequent anger and sorrow! Let our kids grow up watching more of concern and regard for our fellow beings and thereby let us join hands to help future generations thrive in an environment of goodwill and understanding!!
PS: A piece of good news for the womenfolk: Research has shown that women are naturally more empathetic than men. A word of caution though: Don’t regret for being kind by nature. But let it be known that you may have to regret for the KIND of people you show kindness to. There are wolves in sheep’s skin out there, you know! So just spare a thought once, twice, thrice before you choose the kind of people you actually wish to help out! Take care!