It’s a familiar expression and one you’ve likely used countless times throughout the pandemic. When someone has been sick or stressed, felt lonely or lost their job. You say it without having to think: “I get it. I’ve been there. I can relate.”
But did you know that, hiding in these very simple sentences, is a sophisticated skill you may not even realize you have? Psychologists and researchers call it empathy. And it’s not just for therapists or counsellors. Empathy is the ability to share someone else’s feelings or experiences by imagining what it would be like to be in their situation. It’s a simple concept, but it may be the very thing we humans need most.
As human beings, we share an ability to imagine what life is like for someone else. To see the world as others see it. To look through someone else’s eyes. To climb inside and walk around in their skin.
When someone is struggling, they don’t always need someone to swoop in and fix things for them. First, they need someone to understand where they’re coming from.
During his time as president, Barack Obama suggested the biggest deficit in the world was an empathy deficit. He defined it as the ability to see the world through the eyes of those who are different from us.
But maybe that’s shifted these past two years, as our world has faced a common problem: we’ve lived together through a long and grueling pandemic. The virus came for all of us. No exception. And while it left its mark on some more than others, it is clearer now that we’re as much the same as we are different. Empathy might, in fact, be the silver lining to all of this: whatever our circumstances, it’s clear that we all need to feel seen and heard.
If empathy doesn’t come easily to you, the good news is that it can be learned and practiced. Empathy can help us know ourselves and our own feelings. It can help us lead, help us communicate and help us support and connect with others. At home. At work and at school.
For Mental Health Week this year – May 2-8, 2022 – #GetReal about how to help. We may be different, but that doesn’t make us rivals. Let’s stop polarizing and start empathizing. Be there for each other when times are hard and be ready to listen. You don’t have to agree to understand, and you don’t have to fix it to help.