What is Empathy
Empathy is being present to what the other person is experiencing, not being triggered by it or even trying to fix it. When we allow the person who is before us to simply be - without our values, judgments or decisions to be placed upon them, we are offering ourselves in what some have called unconditional love. Connecting with open-hearted curiosity accesses our natural ability to respond with compassion and clarity. It's an experience of mutual giving and receiving.
Empathy is the meeting ground where the needs of all are acknowledged and understood. Though empathy may seem like a selfless act, it is not. When we deeply understand another, the other person is now far more open to hearing and understanding us. Empathy gives us a much greater chance of bringing our own needs and values to actuality.
What Empathy is Not
Empathy is not Sympathy
Sympathy entails a quality of support that requires a degree of agreement with the other person's views. Empathy means we fully let in what the other expresses, without agreeing or disagreeing with the content of the expression. Empathy implies seeking to understand, not seeking agreement or disagreement.
Empathy is not “Niceness”
If by being nice, we mean polite "proper" behavior, empathy can often be the antithesis of "niceness". Empathy calls for our authenticity, that we acknowledge what is often kept hidden by the polite, nice world, bringing those uncomfortable issues to the forefront.
Empathy is not Passivity
Being empathetic does not mean I become a limp noodle without my own needs and expression, or indifferent to conflict. Empathy is an active process of presence, listening, observing and internally opening to someone other than our selves.
Empathy is not the same as Love
If love is the giving from our hearts without expectation, empathy is a quality of being fully present to another person, focusing on the other, which often opens our hearts to such giving.
In fact, empathy moves us to the center of conflict. Human beings disagree, misunderstand, react and so forth. Our world is full of examples of this. Empathy works directly with this noble truth. By deeply understanding another, we can reduce misunderstanding, see clearly how our views differ, and build trust through the truly courageous act of letting another human being fully into our awareness and maybe even our hearts. It doesn't mean we agree or disagree, sympathize, lie down, or be polite; we simply give another the gift of our presence and understanding.
Empathy is not Naive
Empathy is exactly the opposite of naiveté, empathy ends naiveté. How? Because when we fully receive another person, seek to understand, the maximum amount of information is brought into the open. It means we are now aware of another's needs giving us the maximum opportunity to act on accurate information at the deepest level of trust, opening to the greatest possibility of resolution. What we have done is relieve ourselves of the naive idea that some problems are unsolvable, that violent disagreement is absolutely inevitable.