Showing Empathy

Have you ever thought about what this means? Are you a good listener? By which I mean, you’re not thinking about other things or plotting a scene in your head, or deciding what you’ll say when it’s your turn to talk next.

Maybe it’s because authors can become egocentric that I’m thinking about this today, but I decided to write this post because I think it’s an important reminder for all people that the world is a big place, and everything isn’t about you.

I mean, we all have a tendency to make things about us and filter things through our experiences. Sometimes we don’t get what the other person is saying because of it. We all have a tendency to do it. But we can’t let our self-involvement get in the way of caring and making connections. We can’t let jealousy or envy color our responses. We live in an age of ennui, when there’s an excess of everything except compassion and kindness. sad_smiley

I challenge you to think about your last conversation. Were you an engaged listener? Did you come into it without an agenda? When was the last time you talked to someone just because you wanted to, not because you had something you needed to get out of it? To some extent, this behavior is natural and human. It’s only when it occurs to the exclusion of showing empathy at all that it becomes problematic.

If you tell me your sister has broken a bone, and I’m like, I broke a bone once, that’s a problem. The proper response should be along the lines of, OMG, how? Is she ok otherwise? I hope nobody else was hurt. Are you all right? Or some combination thereof. Not because you know your friend’s sister or because it impacts you in some way, but because her hurt presumably hurts your friend. Right?

I wonder if all the modern conveniences have impacted our ability to focus on other people. We live in a me-world, and sometimes it makes me sad.

Posted in opinion, random, sad-making, whatever

18 Responses to Showing Empathy

  1. Rosie says:

    I just clicked on my home page and this post popped up in my feed reader because it was you I clicked on it.

    Part of my job is HR. Being an active listener is something I have to constantly consciously work on.

    Thanks for the reminder.


  2. Ann Aguirre says:

    Oh, I’m so happy to hear this, Rosie! Will you be posting your thoughts somewhere?

    The reason I wrote this today is that I realized I’ve been guilty of doing this to my kids. When the boy is chattering on about his games or his Bakugan cards, I’m not really listening. Though it may not be important stuff in a grand scale, it matters to him and it should matter to me. Has anyone else ever done this to their kids?

  3. BevQB says:

    This is a trick question right? Because if I say that I also find myself only hearing the “adult Peanuts language” (wahwah wah wahwah-wah) from my hubby, kids, etc. then I’m guilty of that same “I broke a bone once” problem, aren’t I?! :confused:

    Way to screw us over with a catch-22, Ann. :razz:

    • Ann Aguirre says:

      No, I don’t think so, Bev. Unless you do it ALL the time. I’m working on some self-improvement in this regard, and I’m really happy with the steps I took today.

    • Amie Stuart says:

      LOL Bev this is so me! uhhhh wait…. :neutral:

      *slinks off*

      NO seriously. Do you think sometimes we do that (or maybe I’m misreading you Ann) because as writers/storytellers we “can relate” via story?

      I have a hard time on this one (most) with my step-mom (hypochondriac) and my youngest kid so yes I’m definitely guilty (but I”m sorry ya’ll much as i Love that boy I could give a frackin shit less about what happened on the damned Yugioh cartoons last Saturday when he watched at his dad’s house).

      >>“I need to apologize to you guys. I’m always very focused on my work,

      I think sometimes we just need to remind peeps to hit us upside the head–you know? We’re human though and we can auto-correct. You’re a good mom and you obviously care and that’s the most important thing!!

      • Ann Aguirre says:

        I think we have that “I” response naturally but it’s not always appropriate. I mean, if we relate a story about something similar, we’re not listening actively anymore. Sometimes that person has more to say and feelings to get out, and we can best serve them by listening and asking questions. I do the psychologist thing sometimes and just ask those questions nonstop.

        “How do you feel about that?”

        “And what happened next?”

        “Why do you think she did that?”

        Generally we can go along that way until the person feels “done” and says something like, “Ok, enough about me…” Sometimes they never do. Those people have other problems.

  4. katiebabs says:

    I try to listen, especially when someone has so much on their chests and they have the need to get it out there.

    Sometimes I feel guilty because I should ask more often how someone is going and really mean it.

  5. Ann Aguirre says:

    I apologized to my kids today for being so into my work and for not listening to them like I should. Because they’re awesome they forgave me.

    And we instituted a new deal. When I pick them up from school, I am setting aside an hour to really talk and listen with none of us doing anything else. No radio, no music, no TV, no games. I told them we don’t have to take that hour if they don’t have that much to say, so if the talk goes 15 minutes, that’s fine. It will run its natural course, however long it takes. We did this today, and it worked really, really well. We connected and had a great conversation. I feel like I’m more in tune with them after just one day. This will be the new policy going forward and I’m feeling a lot better about my parent-self right now.

  6. Great post and something we all need to be mindful of. I’m guilty of this sometimes, I know. Empathy isn’t my strong suit, but I’m working on it.

    • Ann Aguirre says:

      Me too, Kristen. It was my failings with my kids that got me thinking about this. I am super obsessive about my work, super-hyper-focused and it makes me kind of a sucky mom sometimes. I mean, in sense that maybe I’m not giving them the emotional support they need. Since I’m so self-contained, I assume everyone else is the same way, but they’re kids and they need to know I care and I’m available. I’m really happy with the way things went today. I told them:

      “I need to apologize to you guys. I’m always very focused on my work, and it’s important to me, but you guys are more important and I love you very much. So here’s what we’re going to do, going forward.” And I outlined the “talk time” plan, and they were super happy. I’m actually a little teary now because our conversation went so well and we connected this afternoon.

  7. Kwana says:

    Wonderful post. Having teenagers I try and remind myself to listen to them which is not always easy (on both sides) and to listen to others. Thanks for this.

  8. Michele Lee says:

    I think sometimes the “me/I” bit might come out of an effort to relate to or sympathize with a person. I know I’m quite guilty of doing it.

    And yes, to my kids too, because my 5 year old talks about random things (sometimes even bursting out in nonsense talk) some times and it’s pretty common for her to try to get attention by doing so right when I’m in the middle of something. (Like homework with my other child.)

    You’re totally right. If it’s important to them it should be important to us.

  9. Lori T says:

    I do try to be a good listener, but I realize that at times I am not that great at it. I really do need to work on focusing my undivided attention on what my kids have to say and I have been trying to improve on this especially they have all hit those teen or almost teen years.

    Great post Ann!

  10. Melissa says:

    I TRY to be an active listener, but sometimes I actually have to make myself. Which sounds terrible, doesn’t it? But I think you’re right, with all the modern distractions and overloads of information we’re constantly getting, I don’t want to say it makes us JADED, per say, more like…calloused. We’ve heard it so much, it’s harder to respond.
    They actually did a piece on this for CNN~~it was really good, and easy to see how it happens. Great blog, Ann.

  11. When my son was younger there were def. times when I didn’t listen as much as I should have. But most of the time I did.

    I think good parents naturally feel guilty when that happens, and you’re right, it’s really important to have times when you ARE listening and engaged. They can tell.

    Now that my son’s 14, I wish he would talk more! Those times when I does and I can’t concentrate on what he’s saying (because he’s interrupted or what have you) I just flat out tell him I’m distracted and will get back to him when my brain is functioning. Usually I do.

    Kids need to know their parents will listen to them and take them seriously.

    Thanks for the reminder.

  12. Yeah, it’s disrespectful when someone tries to turn it into competition — “I had something worse happen to me.”

    However, i remember back in the early 80s, when we were told it sounded MORE empathetic to relate a personal experience that was similar — only I think now it’s often taken too far and becomes competitive or “it’s really not as bad as what I’VE been through” instead of showing you can relate through similar experience.

    I think, as writers, one of our most important jobs is to be good LISTENERS – to our characters, to the world around us — because only then can we make our stories immediate and tell those stories in a way that connects with the readers on many levels.

  13. Deidre says:

    People are definitely less compassionate and sympathetic. I always try to have empathy for others and put myself in their shoes. Even when people are turds to me, I rarely act on it because I know that maybe they’ve had a particularly bad day and give them the benefit of the doubt.


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