Empathising with someone will only make you a better person
Empathising with someone will only make you a better person.
Even if that person has done the most horrible, vile things imaginable, the worst that can happen from you trying to empathise with them is that you will start to understand what led them to that evil behaviour. So you will learn more about the world, and become a more rounded, whole person.
Of course, most people are not horrible or vile. But still, we may find ourselves unwilling to empathise, or to try to imagine ourselves in their shoes.
Maybe it's the co-worker who seems to do everything he can at work to make life difficult for you. Or perhaps it's the new neighbours with different coloured skin, who don't speak your language. Or even a family member who seems to go out of their way to hurt you. Or the friend you thought you could rely on who suddenly turned their back.
It's easy to start to hate someone if you don't take that chance to emapthise. If you don't make the effort, what happens is that you increase the scope of your own ignorance. That's not something you might like to hear, especially if you think your negative feeling to someone is justified. But the thing about ignorance is it leads to a very subtle, insidious type of fear. It might not feel like fear; it might feel like anger, or frustration, or whatever. But the bottom line is that by switching yourself off from trying to understand that person, you will soon start to think that they are deliberately targeting you because they hate you.
The truth is, life is hardly ever like that. It is very rare indeed that someone will forgo the common issues and problems of life just to make trouble for you, whether that be constantly, or in opportunistic moments. People usually have too many issues going on in their lives for that.
Everyone is capable of doing horrible things - you and me included
Of couse, bullies do exist, and everyone is capable of doing horrible things - you and me included. But before you designate someone who has wronged you as evil, what have you got to lose by trying to empathise? And more importantly, what have you got to gain?
One thing that always comes out of a concerted attempt to understand other people, is a realisation of how much we are all like each other. You might be forced to remember things you'd rather forget; times when you've behaved in a way that might have left someone else thinking you're the horrible and vile one. Or when you've been so troubled and inwardly focused that you neglected people around you in a way that they might have felt was malicious.
And what if you are the one being despised by others? Empathising can not only help you understand them, but yourself. Realising that you have - either deliberately or unintentionally or by simple lack of awareness - caused someone to feel so negatively toward you can only bring a deeper understanding of yourself, and your place in the community you inhabit.
Hate is not a positive feeling
One common thing about hating, or despising, or even just strongly disliking someone, is that it doesn't feel good. Hate is not a positive feeling, even when you believe it is justified.
By taking time out to try to understand that person who has behaved in a way that has left you with such unpleasant feelings, you will at least begin to see the humanity in that person. And from there, you might begin to see other aspects of them. You might never get to the stage where you forgive them, but at least the unpleasant feelings you have will dissipate as your common humanity is revealed, and you begin to put that person in the context of yourself and your own, all too human faults. You might end up changing your behaviour to that person as a result. They may or may not respond, depending on what's going on in their lives, but what matters here is what you are doing, not them. It's about realising that your negative feelings don't have to control you.
If this leads to more positive life experience for you, then you have grown as a person.
By definition, if you remove a reason to have negative feelings, you have made yourself happier.
Does this mean you should never be angry or upset; never allow yourself to display your ordinary human emotions? Of course not. But it does mean that you have nothing to gain from holding on to them, and everything to gain from simply empathising.
© Darren R. Scothern 2016