Empathy has no script. There is no right way or wrong way to do it. It’s simply listening, holding space, withholding judgement, emotionally connecting, and communicating that incredibly healing message of ‘You’re not alone’. Brené Brown
In your relationships with one another, have the same mindset as Christ Jesus: Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage; rather, he made himself nothing by taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. The Apostle Paul (Philippians 2:5-7)
I staggered into the hotel coffee shop at 6am, unsure of how I would face another day or another person. I had been so excited about leading this two-day conference. Attendance had double from the previous year. Likeminded people were coming together to learn and grow. But the previous day had been a logistical train wreck. Equipment failed, tech bombed, a musician was sick and the speaker ran way over time.
I hadn’t slept all night, and there was my ‘boss’ right in front of me at the espresso bar. She said hello, and I said: I’m sorry; that was a disaster. She didn’t say, “no worries.” She didn’t say, “I hope today goes better.”
Instead she said, “Things like this happen. When they happen to me I feel awful. Every leader has been where you are now, facing a big day after a hard day. We’re in this together, and you’re not alone.”
I had never heard such comforting words. My colleague didn’t give me advice, didn’t judge my performance, didn’t feel sorry for me or herself. She convinced me that she understood what I was experiencing and feeling and that she would not turn away.
Our conversation changed my perspective then and now. Prior to this healing, I had no category for the transformative power of empathy. I thought that leadership and parenting are a lot about helping people grow. But I’d never considered sitting next to someone as a means of helping them grow in wisdom. I’d had many compassionate moments with hurting people, but I didn’t realize that with empathy, the medium IS the message. I didn’t realize that empathy is a powerful tool of compassion that helps people rise.
Jesus was compassionate and empathetic. Compassionate: He recognized the light and dark in our shared humanity and he was kind to himself and others in the face of great suffering. Empathetic: He had the emotional skill to respond to others with genuine understanding and caring. He didn’t feel our emotions for us, but he felt our pain with us. Jesus stuck with us to the bitter end, never leaving or forsaking.
When we see another person suffering, we can walk away, we can feel sorry for them and express sympathy from a place of separatness , or we can be like Doreen and Jesus. We can say: As a fellow human being, I understand how you feel; and you are not alone.
LORD God, help me to empty myself of the tools of judgment, comparison and sympathy. Fill me with true compassion, and teach me the skill of empathy.