98 percent of people can empathize with others, but few actually act on it. Empathy has a reputation for being a vague feel-good emotion. Empathy can start a revolution. Not one of those old-fashioned revolutions based on new laws, institutions or governments, but something much more radical: a revolution in human relations. Roman Krznaric shows you what it takes to use this empathic capacity optimally.
Introspection is out, outrospection is in!
What is empathy?
But what exactly is empathy? And what does empathy look like in practice? Let us first clarify the meaning: empathy is the art of putting yourself in the imagination of other people’s thoughts, thereby understanding their feelings and points of view, and being guided by them in your actions. Thus, empathy is not the same as an expression of sympathy —such as showing mercy to someone or feeling sorry for someone—because it involves not trying to understand the other person’s emotions or point of view. Nor is empathy equivalent to the golden rule, “Treat others as you would like them to treat you,” because it assumes that your own interests coincide with theirs.
Highly empathetic people have something in common. They try to cultivate six habits—a set of attitudes and daily behaviors that stimulate the empathic circuitry in their brains and enable them to understand how other people see the world. The challenge we face, if we hope to fully mature the homo empathicus within each of us, is to develop these six habits in ourselves to the best of our ability.
Habit 1: Turn on your empathic brain
Stepping outside our spiritual box and realizing that empathy is at the core of human nature and can be used everywhere in our lives.
Habit 2: Make the jump in your imagination
Make a conscious effort to empathize with other people, including our ‘enemies’, and recognize their humanity, individuality and points of view.
Habit 3: Seek out experiential adventures
Exploring ways of life and cultures that are very different from our own by immersing ourselves directly in them, traveling empathically and pursuing social collaboration.
Habit 4: Practice the art of conversation
Showing our curiosity towards strangers, listening radically and taking off our emotional mask.
Habit 5: Travel in your armchair
Getting into other people’s minds through art, literature, movies and online social networks.
Habit 6: Start a revolution
Generate empathy on a large scale to effect social change and extend our empathy skills to nature. Which of these six habits would you like to develop further in the future? And what practical step can you take in the next two days to get started?