So you got over your crush already?
Yeap. Zero empathy dude. Two things I seek in a guy – One, he knows Christ personally. Two, he has atleast above average empathy. And if you look closely, they are both related.
Okay, how exactly?
Abhishek (my brother) finds any of my analyses about people quite fascinating, he tells me. He is also one of the most empathetic people I know.
Empathy matters. A lot.
And if you are someone like me, who often feels like an ‘Agony Aunt’, you will know what I mean. For the rest of you, this blog may still ring some bells.
In a culture where posting selfies frequently on social media is considered ‘therapy’, I dared to make a resolution this year – to edify others instead of myself. This happened largely because last year, I spent a considerable amount of time truly questioning my assumptions about people. Observation is a good thing, Bruh!
I had several ‘Dear Diary’ moments as I recorded my observations, truly in awe of how human beings operate, think, act or listen. I resolved to be a better listener this year.
And what led to this resolution? You will see.
‘Amour Sui’, the Latin for ‘Self-love’ seems to have invaded our lives. Most of my Instagram feeds are full of thoughts, resolutions, determinations, quotes about ‘Self-love’, ‘Me-first’. Even the meet-ups I attended last year (including a TedX in my hometown) were all about ‘self gratification’. Millennials are so unhappy that they need to be constantly reminded that unless they learnt to love themselves first, they wouldn’t be happy. We feel serious existential crisis if we don’t learn to love ourselves.
Self love can be tiring
Of course a lot of people do need to be reminded that they need to value and love themselves more. People who have sacrificed so much in their lives for others only to be avenged with hatred or strife. Or others who have been afflicted, abused or exploited and they need to learn to value themselves. But unless you are in that situation, I feel you need to take the ‘self-love’ philosophy with a tad bit of salt.
Personally, I struggle to love some parts of me. So instead of pretending to love ‘all of me’, I prefer loving parts of me while striving to analyze why I don’t like the other parts of me and what I can truly do to change that. Thank God, I have Jesus who loves me regardless and as long as He loves ‘all of me’, I am not going to bother too much about that part.
Yet here’s the real reason why I have a problem with over-the-top self-love philosophy- it eventually leads to self-obsession. It gets tiring. It’s exhausting and it needs more work and more work. You never feel fully satiated. You want more. There’s a good chance you become too pre-occupied with your own needs, your own wants or ambitions or even dreams. Sometimes, it does become difficult to come back from that place. My experience says, you desperately need to come back. You cannot live in a world full of people as though they don’t exist. You will eventually need to find a way for co-existence. The beginning of that is certainly not self-obsession.
There may be people around you who need help or advice or just your presence. When the spotlight is mostly on yourself, you may miss out these people in the blurred backdrop. These may be your parents, forgotten old friends, neighbours or colleagues.
Then there are people who have a crazy appetite for just ‘receiving’. This is my photo, tell me I look nice. This is my music, tell me you like it. This is my blog, how nicely I write. This is my dog, isn’t he cute? This is my achievement, ain’t I genius? Non-stop brags, endless rants. But when others begin to share something about their achievement or just needs, these ‘Me-first’ people just disappear.
I just want to ensure I am not this person.
The ‘Cheese-touch’ from school
As a child, I was the weird one because I didn’t like the ‘groupie rules’. My mother tells me that I used to be friends with kids who were ‘underdogs’ – physically weak kids (I was underweight most of my childhood years myself), or those not so good in studies or the proverbial ‘ back-benchers’. Now if you have read ‘The Diary Of A Wimpy Kid’, you will know that the child with the ‘cheese touch’ was untouchable for weeks. That was School Kids Protocol for ‘outcast’. Why? Because the kid either peed in his pants or threw up in class or stepped on poop in toilet. Such a kid was left alone during lunch breaks. I found this unfair. So I would sit or eat with that kid. That means, I would ‘acquire’ the ‘cheese touch’ and become ‘untouchable’ too. That abandoned child would eventually become my friend. This was why I was friends with most people in my class. Kids found in me a friend during the ‘cheese touch’ period.
I had no idea back then that this peculiar trait would make me the person I am today. I didn’t realize it most of my adult life either until this one incident. I was about 29 I think and was teaching Verbal Ability to CAT (Common Admission Test for the IIMs) aspirants in a local institute. There was this one new faculty with who I developed an unsaid enmity. She was 15 years older. She was despicable according to my strong-headed late 20-something opinion! She too probably got the vibes and did everything to annoy me, well, so I thought. My friends at the institute promptly informed me that she was backbiting about me, spreading rumours about me and so on.
I used to be quite snobbish about my beliefs and pretentious intellectualism. So I would crack jokes – well I tried my best to like her but she is not likable. I was so damn full of myself, in awe of my fleeting ‘stardom’ (Feedback rating: 3.6 on 4). I looked down upon anyone who dared to challenge my throne. Everything was about to be tested, mocked at and challenged soon.
Once I was sitting in the Faculty Room and she came in, looking upset. I was sipping Chai and I offered her some from the Jar. She took it but burst into crying, all of a sudden. On pure impulse, I tucked her inside the room and closed the door. Next thing, I took her Chai away and just embraced her in a tight hug. She sobbed in my arms for a few minutes. With her tears, I found my dislike melting away. When she calmed down, I sat her on the chair. The only thing that came out of my mouth was – tell me! As she finished her story, I couldn’t hate her anymore. It was like school all over again. Another child with the ‘cheese touch’.
I realized for the first time – I was built this way, I was called for this. I decided to embrace it. I eventually realized the phony-ness of my snobbish self. All thanks to this one amazing lady who decided to bare her heart before me. God bless her.
You want to be heard
As human beings, you want a voice and you want to be heard. You need someone around who would listen, just listen and make an attempt to get into your shoes. It’s not just about being an empath, it’s also about recognizing that you need empathy as much as others. Lady Gaga, while accepting an award, put it beautifully
“If you see somebody that’s hurting, don’t look away. And if you are hurting, even though it might be hard, try to find that bravery within yourself to dive deep and go tell somebody.”
You are born that way, you are born to connect with others emotionally, physically and spiritually. But do you know when this connection fails? When you start to put yourself above others. When your own needs, your own wants become more important than others. You just want to receive empathy, you don’t want to give any. Good friendships are killed like that, a lot of love gets lost like that. Listening, on the other hand, opens doors of empathy, it helps you truly see the other person. It’s only when you see others, can you empathize and help.
I had a bit of ‘reality-check’ recently about the medical profession in general. I became friends with a doctor who introduced me to a whole new aspect of empathy. During my interactions with this friend, I am learning how the interest of the patient is at the center of his work life. While I worry about his insane working hours or crib over his lack of sleep, all he is thinking about is – if he doesn’t step in to help, nobody else will. I am able to empathize with doctors a little better now.
Christ is the biggest empath I know
One of the greatest things about Jesus Christ, as much as I have known and observed, is his natural sense of empathy. Imagine this – a son of God comes to earth and doesn’t ‘act the part’. On the contrary, He goes through the same temptations human beings do. The reason why people swarmed to Christ in hundreds and thousands was because He ‘touched’ people, He could empathize with them. There are so many anecdotes that I have lost the count. On one occasion, Christ wept for a friend who had passed away. He had the power to bring this dead man to life (which He eventually did) yet He felt the pain of human loss, He knew what it meant to lose someone. When ailing people were brought to Christ, He didn’t judge them, He just felt their pain and healed them. When children came to him, He just listened to their endless chatters. When women came to Him about their specific ailments, He listened and empathized and healed. That was and that is Christ.
The world needs more listeners and empaths
Christ-followers are especially called to be empaths, they are called to be good listeners. It’s almost like you do not know Christ unless you know empathy. Center stage is tempting and challenging and fun. But listening unleashes emotions, it makes room for meaningful conversations. It prepares you to empathize. But most importantly, listening puts the focus on others. It’s only when you see others, hear their voices that you are liberated from self-obsession. The Bible puts it aptly –
“Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves.” [Philippians 2:3]
Tall order that? It indeed is. The things with true value are often hard but they are the only things that are worth pursuing.
You know what’s the fun part about listening? You don’t need to be a good story-teller. And in return, you collect some interesting life experiences.
Empathy is a work in progress folks. It begins from listening more, and listening better. It’s okay if you don’t get empathy in return. That’s not the point. You need to be an empath also for yourself, it’s good for your own soul. For those wondering about my crush, well, I got over my feelings for him but not the empathy. He continues to be a fellow human who deserves my empathy.
When was the last time you asked someone – hey tell me about your fears, your dreams? Is there anyone around you who may benefit from your listening ear? Is there anyone you need to encourage today? Or just compliment? Is there a friend who needs to be told that he or she is doing good? Let’s do this. Take interest in others’ lives and allow them to introduce you to their world.
I urge you my fellow human, don’t let good friendships die because you lacked empathy. Don’t let your self-love take over your immense ability to love and value others.
Join me in adding more empaths into our world this year, will you?
Are you someone who loves to be back-stage? Check out Depth of Field.
Going through a heartbreak? Read I will build
Single and annoyed? Read When the heart wants what it wants