What is Empathy and How to Experience It
As I sat down in the evening to write my script for my next podcast, I had to stop and pause because my little boy had a bit of a fever and refused to take his liquid cold medicines. I tasted the medicine, I can’t blame the kid. That cherry-flavored prescription syrup tastes like cherries… no more than a vegan patty tastes like hamburger.
I just imagined that poor kid trying so hard to get rest without taking the medicine he needs. My wife and I couldn’t stand the thought of him feeling so wiped out.
So we all got in the car and went to Walgreens and looked at every kid’s cold medicine until we found one that he agreed to take.
While near the back of the store at Walgreens, in front of me there was this little girl. She must have been about 3 years old. She was coughing and hiccupping and suddenly crying and screaming. I think her mother was asking one of the employees about something for an ear infection. Poor kid. Poor mom.
There was another customer sitting near the pharmacy pick up window obviously with a cold and definitely waiting on a needed prescription. Maybe half asleep, maybe half awake. Definitely low sleep. I could tell the child screaming bothered the poor sick person. She looked so wiped out, irritated and uncomfortable.
I completely understood her exasperation. The screams were piercing through my ears, too. I also know it feels awful to be exhausted and low on sleep. I’ve been there.
But, wait. I felt for the little girl. Being in a pharmacy at night, so restless and unhappy; plus there was a time when I had a bad cold and ear infection. That little kid was so tiny and cute and must have been in a lot of pain.
The little girl's mom was frantic. She looked concerned and mortified and desperately trying to contain her little girl. I understood her too. I'm a dad and devoted uncle with a great niece and nephew. I know how it feels to be responsible for kids that are sometimes hard to control. That's just how kids work sometimes.
Luckily the story ended well: My wife was standing with me and our son in the check out. She loves kids, and kids love her. So, in the check out isle, my wife started making faces at the little girl, winking at her and looking like a big, fuzzy muppet. The girl looks at her, reserved at first. Then she grins. Now they're smiling at each other.
I apologize, I think I got a little off track with my story. This podcast is designed to explain what empathy is, so back to the question. Empathy is the ability to put yourself in another person's shoes. You tend to feel more empathy towards things you have been through, because you can relate to them.
It also means taking yourself out of the equation. This is not about what an incident means to you, but what it means to another. You exercise setting your ego aside.
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