Imagination is an important piece of empathy, but it has its limits—remember, we often create fiction in our imagination. If we are trying to understand another correctly we have to hear from them and get the facts. Samuel Silas Curry wrote back in 1891, “It has been well said that we do not see things as they are, but as we are ourselves. Every man looks through the eyes of his prejudices, of his preconceived notions. Hence, it is the most difficult thing in the world to broaden a man so that he will realize truth as other men see it.”
It is a mistake to think that we could understand all the complexities of another completely, and when we are listening to people, we shouldn’t force our perceptions of their experience on them. We have to acknowledge the limitations of our own experiences, and instead, ask others to clarify and define what they are currently experiencing. Our own experiences cloud our interpretation of emotional words like anxious, angry, and joyful, so listen well and ask follow-up questions.
5. Know When to Rest
A byproduct of being empathic is tuning into the emotional state of another human, and with such endeavors, the soul feels the gravity of a fallen world. Researcher Brene Brown reminds us that, “Empathy is a choice, and it’s a vulnerable choice. Because in order to connect with you, I have to connect with something in myself that knows that feeling.”
If we want to be somebody who can offer compassion and empathy throughout the marathon of life, we also need to learn to carry the weight by placing it into the hands of God. Should we try to bear the burden through our own strength, it will crush us. Which in turn will cause us to cease offering our care to others or our hearts will become so hard that our care will not be worth much.
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