Empathy. It’s the skill of putting yourself in another person's shoes or being able to see from another perspective. Many confuse empathy for sympathy when trying to comfort people. And, others don't think it's an important skill to have. Certain it doesn’t help in any situation at all.
However, I’m going to look at the different types of empathy and how empathising with others is a good skill to have. In many different areas of life. And how it is useful for those with disabilities.
The 3 types of empathy
There are 3 known types of empathy: Affective, Somatic and Cognitive.
Affective: Understanding another person’s emotional state and actively responding in an appropriate manner.
Somatic: Physically reacting to an emotion someone is going through, i.e. second-hand embarrassment.
Cognitive: Understanding someone's mental state and what they’re thinking.
Ways to show empathy:
- Through listening to others
- Making sure people are okay
- Offering advice
- Trying to help others who are less fortunate
Empathy is shown in many different ways. Again, many people think empathy is a rather silly ability to have.
However, empathy is a brilliant skill and understanding to have. Because, whilst humans do many cruel and selfish acts, empathy is there to pick up the pieces.
For example, say a neighbour's house has burned down. Using empathy, you’re able to comfort them, be able to understand what has been lost. Whilst you won’t have physically been in a fire (I hope), you're still able to help someone else in need.
This also comes into play when working with people of any ability or age. For example, say you’re leading a team, and someone missed an important meeting. Using empathy, you try not to snap and moan at them. You try to work out what is wrong and offer a solution. Or gently tell them it's okay. It enables better teamwork and would make you a better leader because you're listening to people and trying to help.
Empathy helps with: Being able to comfort each other; understand everyone's differences and needs; helps you make more healthy friendships, family relationships and generally better connections. Which helps stop you from being isolated and lonely. And it works vice-versa for other people too.
Positions where it is useful
Empathy is good no matter what position or job you have. However, here are a few where I think it's easier to understand why it's so important.
Being in a position of power: From a C.E.O to the Prime Minister, empathising is important. You’ll be making tough decisions that will affect other people, from the economy to what someone gets paid. The way you treat people will also affect how long people stay in a position or job below yours. The ability to understand (as well as some other traits such as compassion.) It will enable people in positions of power to see how the rules they put in place will affect people. And create new ones who stop that harm.
Health Practitioner or nurse: Doctors and nurses see many people in different circumstances and different thresholds of pain.
Empathy will enable health practitioners to listen to a patient's symptoms, identify solutions, and, if needed, refer them to the right ward, medical area or specialist quicker. Plus, it enables medical treatment to be administered without as much judgement as possible.
Teachers: They have to work with many people—some with varying needs and abilities.
The ability to empathise will enable them to listen to the kids that are struggling and offer help and solutions. This would also enable them to adapt lessons in a variety of ways for other kids with disabilities. Allowing everybody to get the same amount of education.
Disability and empathy
Another way empathy is useful is through the way people treat those who are different. Having empathy enables us to talk about and then stop those intolerances.
One group, I think of in particular. (and a group that often gets left out of the conversation) are people that are disabled. As a person with a disability, I am very aware the spectrum of disability is wide in different ways. For example, two people with the same condition can be affected in different ways. Or have completely different symptoms from what we normally see.
Empathy is needed by those who are disabled. So, they can listen to other people with different disabilities and fight for their rights. Also, for those with the same disability to understand their struggles, get them better rights, stop people with disabilities feel less lonely; and, how one disability presents itself differently in others.
But empathy is also needed from others—those who are able-bodied. Listen to us; give us the accessibility and everyday independence we desire, and understand that every disability and need is different.
A tip to improve empathy
If you want to improve empathy, then improve your listening skills. Try your best to read body language. (Although I’m very aware that is difficult, don’t beat yourself up over that one.)
You’re already practising it.
You’re already practising it. Listening to a mate rant, or helping someone in need or generally helping make something better. Although you don’t realise it, you're practising empathy. In the end, it's the skill everyone needs and uses but doesn’t value as highly as they should.
Ultimately, whilst people think empathy is a stupid skill. It is vital in everyday life. For some, more than others is an absolute necessity. We should always try to practise it and improve upon it. If you’re already trying to help those in need, offering advice and being a good listener, you're about 50% there.
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