Becoming a first time parent last year has been a fundamentally life changing experience. I adapted well to the lack of sleep and the change in lifestyle; coping well with the changes I think because we had such a rough start.
Although I’m learning to slow down and let go, I still find the worries of parenting invading my thoughts and my web searches. While some of my worries are common, many are related to the less common medical issues we are managing.
When I share these worries with others, I find they are so quick to assume I’m worrying too much. I find their responses dismissive and lacking understanding. I really feel that no one understands me.
What I’ve come to believe is that empathy is the key to our future. Here are four reason why I think this is true:
1. Letting go empowers you to be more empathetic.
My experience thus far has taught me to be more empathetic to others. I understand how challenging parenting can be in so many unique and different ways. As for the answers to my worries? Most often, the answers are simple. Sometimes the solution is to let go, other times it is to change my expectations.
The enlightening process of living more intentionally and letting go of what I feel doesn’t matter has illustrated the impact of empathy. I have so much in this life, and I’m aware of it. Yet still, I sometimes feel judged and misunderstood, so I sought out an answer for that predicament. I found my answer through a blog post that The Minimalists Josh and Ryan shared.
2. Explaining yourself doesn’t lead to empathy.
I have realized that I am constantly trying to explain why my life is so hard. The concept of letting go of explaining really resonated with me.
While my ability to worry is occasionally useful, my role as a parent is sometimes so consuming that explaining takes too much valuable time. This realization has been empowering but when I need support, I feel a lack of empathy around me.
Other parents are so tired that they cannot peek out from under the umbrella of their own battles, and non-parents don’t really understand the difficulties, especially around a child with medical issues. I will admit that prior to becoming a parent, I had no concept of how consuming parenting could be.
Realizing that I am not actually required to explain myself has been reassuring. When I feel the need to explain why I’m exceptionally tired, or why I can’t attend dinner on Saturday night, I can take a breath and just say nothing.
When I find those around me lack the right words to communicate, I can tell myself “it’s OK, they either understand or they don’t, save your energy”. While people may feel empathetic, it seems that simply saying ‘I am so sorry for what you’re going through’ is simply too hard.
Through this journey of early parenthood, I’ve realized that empathy is not innate, it’s a learned skill. Some countries and cultures teach empathy in school, where it’s a part of the curriculum. But in other cultures, there is a greater focus on the individual and personal success. Could changing our focus be the key to unlocking empathy?
3. Busyness drains our energy and removes our ability to empathize.
Why are we all so uncomfortable with our feelings? One the Internet’s most popular topics is the culture of busyness. Could busyness be partly to blame for our lack of empathy for others, and for our discomfort with our feelings?
Globalization has resulted in a more mobile and connected community, but the culture of busyness and drive for more has impacted volunteering. While the number of volunteers is growing in some countries, the amount of time invested per person has shifted downwards, dramatically. Yet, scientists tell us that helping others is a sure fire way to contentment and happiness.
There are billions of people in poor countries fighting to be understood; children dying from malnutrition and asylum seekers fleeing war-torn countries. Without empathy, we can’t understand their journey. If we continue to look inwardly, we face a bleak future.
We have a false sense of success and happiness. It isn’t the shiny new things that lead to happiness; for many it is secure relationships and helping others. If we were taught to look outside of ourselves and our own desires, perhaps we would be happier and have better relationships.
4. Can minimalism help us be more empathetic?
Minimalism is more than just reducing what you buy and purging possessions. For me, it’s about learning to respond mindfully, it’s about being free of unhelpful behaviors and thoughts. It’s about eating real food, it’s about volunteering and helping others.
It’s not about perfection, but it’s about being a better version of myself. Being better means showing empathy towards others. I feel like it’s the final frontier in some ways because it requires that inward reflection to be put aside.
I believe empathy is an important skill that we must learn and subsequently teach to our children. If you interested in developing your empathy skills, what can you do about it? We are social beings; we are designed to care about each other. What happened to the village? Is it all the Internet’s fault?
There is so much focus on individual achievement, on status and entitlement. Parents are so worried about their child doing well in school but maybe, just maybe, could we as a society be forgetting the basics?
I’m not a historian or social researcher, I don’t have all the answers. I can only guess. But my heart and my gut tell me that we have it all wrong, we’re heading in entirely the wrong direction.
I can see first-hand that when we as humans experience tough things, a lot of people around us mean well, but they don’t know how to help, how to be empathetic. And those who need the help are too afraid to appear weak, to truly ask and receive help. I can feel the consequences of how our communities are changing, and I hope soon enough, more people will.
They say that the easiest way to make change is to break it down into small goals. If you want to be more empathetic, be intentional and check in with at least one person in your circle of family or friends.
Ask them, with sincerity “How are you?”, be patient, sit, listen and let them feel confident and comfortable in sharing.