Tag Archives: #empathy

View from the Terrace

Humankind has made tremendous progress in the last century than ever before. In our lifetimes, we have seen the journey of the internet from its birth to becoming the digital oxygen. Connecting across borders is easier than ever – we have come a long way from letters/steamer ships to instant messaging and Skype. With Google information is literally at our fingertips. Google has become a verb now.

With all these advances then why are we losing the sense of connection? Why are the suicide rates increasing? Why is depression becoming common?

Let me take you on my trip back to India. India has a population of 1.35 billion with the square footage of 1,269,219 sq miles which means that every person gets roughly 0.00094016222 square miles. Don’t get hung up on numbers – India is just crowded, you cannot step anywhere without running into people. I used to join my parents for a walk on the terrace, and I would look around. I could see kids playing skipping rope on a building terrace couple of blocks away. I could see two young men sitting on the water tank smoking cigarettes (probably hiding from their parents). I could see a woman picking off the clothes of the clothesline. And if I looked down the streets were teeming with life. I could empathize with the young lady coming back from work. I could see the old lady struggling to carry a heavy bag. I could see kids cycling off to someplace very urgently.

Even if you don’t go on the terrace, it is impossible to miss the sounds of life around you in your house because of the proximity of the homes. You can hear the kids upstairs playing marbles or something similar on the floor. You can listen to your neighbor’s tv. You could listen to the milkman and vegetable man in the morning. It is challenging to forget that you are a human and live among other humans. The maid comes in every day. The watchman brings you the newspaper every day.

When I came back to Columbus, there are a few people around on the street. You might see a few people running or walking their dogs. The houses are so apart that you could forget that you have neighbors once you get inside the house. We all sit in our cars – go to work and come back. Most families are nuclear these days, so the interaction is limited to family members these days when we get a break from the digital world. The sense of connection is not very easy – you have to seek it out.

Don’t get me wrong. I am not suggesting that overpopulation is the only way to feel connected. I am stressing on the importance of human connection. We are social animals who crave some connection, warmth. And there are many ways to connect – with nature, with candles, with people, with self. Having contact is important. If you do not get a daily dose of connection, then put yourself in situations where you cannot avoid feeling the oneness with the rest of the humankind. And of course, once you realize the unity with the self and others, then the need for connection goes away as you are always in a state of oneness.

How will you connect today?

Empathy – huh!

Empathy – seems to be the buzz word these days. Notably, in management – empathy for your customers, for your business partners, for your team. And if that’s not enough, three people who I know well and spend quite a bit of time with have Empathy as their top gallup strength. Now, I believe I am smart enough to know that fighting the battle about ‘Empathy – not a big deal’ is not going to get me anywhere. On a serious note, I realized I would need to do something about empathy to be a better human being. Period.

On my search to understand empathy I looked everywhere but I was like a blind person in a dark room – there was no chance of seeing the light. But then the benevolent universe provided, and my blind eyes spotted a blog (maybe it was in braille) which had a sweet story that gave me a little insight into Empathy.

“A first-time teacher goes to her first class at a university. The students are all bored, and she is feeling very nervous. She asks the students to write on a piece of paper – how are they feeling? Their responses include -confused, bored, mindless.Then she asks the students to take another piece of paper and write – how do they think she is feeling?”

The very act of asking the question changed the energy in the room. There was a marked changed in the students – they were attentive.

This question – how do you think the other person is feeling right now? It did the trick for me. All the talk about stepping into their shoes didn’t make much sense but trying to understand how the other person is feeling – CLICKED. Thank you, Universe. I seem to have a mental blocking about putting myself in somebody’s shoes because in my mind it is not possible at all – but I can try and understand how they are feeling.

Let’s take the next step on this journey where I currently exist. Practice. I have to remember to practice this during my day to day interactions with other people. And whenever my fleeting mind decides to retain this question I have noticed a change in the way I behave – my habit patterns are starting to shift a little.

We, humans, are intellectual creatures – knowing how things work and asking why is quite central to our human condition, although the usefulness of this trait is up for doubt. My enquiring mind went on a quest to understand the question more deeply. The answer was very insightful – the question makes me think of somebody other than me. And even if for a second somebody else becomes the star of the movie of my life – I take a step closer to being a better version of myself. Wait! My line of inquiry hasn’t finished. It is essential for us to think of others because there is no I and there is no them, there is only us. We are all drops of the same ocean. Empathy, here I come!