You know how sometimes you really want to be right about something, and so you shut out any information that doesn’t support your argument?
Gaps in empathy are not only a relational problem. They are a societal problem. Cultivating empathy in ourselves can lead to changes in the environment around us, creating a better society.
Empathy can lead us to care more not just about those close to us, but also people we don’t even know. It can make us more socially conscious, responsible people. It can also make us more effective when we do work to improve social conditions. Not only do we need to be curious and caring about those who are adversely affected by social problems, but we also need to work to understand those who disagree with us.
Curiosity and empathy also make us happier and more satisfied with our lives.
Consider whether you are more concerned with being right, or with being effective. It is amazing how often we lose sight of what we really want, in favor of our desire to feel like we have the answers.
Letting go of this need to be right is the key to better understanding others, having better relationships, and having more positive emotional experiences.
How do you get there? It starts with being curious.
Curiosity involves taking a look at the world around you, seeing how things are, and wondering how they might be.
It demands starting from a place of not knowing, letting go of the need to be right, and being willing to accept new information.
Curiosity is wanting to know more. It’s a precursor to empathy: the ability to fill your imagination with the possibility for what may happen in another’s mind, and the willingness to feel what they may feel.
Often, rather than being curious, we make assumptions. This is reinforced by society. Humans are social beings, and we learn behavior from those around us. In conversations, we often think ahead to what we’re going to say, rather than truly listening. We make interpretations about what we think the other person really means.
What if, rather than assuming and analyzing, you were to remain open and curious about the many possibilities for what another person may be experiencing? What if you didn’t need to figure it out, but could instead get used to not knowing?
This approach can lead to increased empathy, helping us better tailor our responses to what the moment requires.