Friday, February 8, 2013

Empathy for a Giving Heart

In my opinion, empathy is the first step to developing a giving heart.  If I care about you, I am more likely to help you.

Unfortunately for me, this isn't always why I give.  Sometimes I just give.  I give to the random charity at the checkout.  I know nothing about it.  I barely even listen to the clerk to hear the name of what I am giving to.  "Would you like to give a dollar to the Teach a Tree to Read Foundation?"  Sure.

Sometimes it's guilt.  Sometimes it's just because I SHOULD give to others and help out.  Sometimes it's simply because I don't want to be the jerk that says "no," and keeps my dollar for myself.

But, the first step to developing a true, genuine, giving empathy.  

I'm not extremely empathetic.  I spent a lot of my youth with extreme guilt about how other people felt (whether I caused those feelings or not).  I've spent many hours obsessing over the good things I didn't do that could have "saved the world".  Eventually, I got tired, and I lost my empathy.  But, I also lost my balance.  I can't do it all.  But I can do some.

Now, as a mother, I wonder how to develop a healthy sense of empathy in my son.  He bites me, and I tell him, "That hurts me when you bite me.  I don't like that" (something I learned in my days of teaching).  But that's not enough.  I have to show him what empathy looks like.  I have to show him that sometimes we cry for the pain of others.  I have to show him that we can be happy when something good happens to another person.  I have to show him that I empathize with HIM (something that can be very challenging after waking up for the 4th time at night).

I have this rule for myself.  After waking up from a seemingly random dream about someone that doesn't usually enter my dream world, I make a point to pray for them that day.  Maybe God put them in my dream to tell me something.  Maybe he didn't.  But it certainly never hurt to pray for anyone.  And it certainly teaches me to be empathic with them.  I remove my thoughts from myself and try to think about what they might be going through.  Prayer is an easy way to increase my empathy and develop a stronger relationship with my God.

How do you learn empathy?

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