Updated: Jul 22
"I wish I could be less empath." were the first words of a friend on a call last weekend. Nicole is just one month away from her voluntary retirement, and undergoing a series of unknown emotions: What will I do with my time? What if nobody is interested in me anymore? Would I regret my decision? Even though her decision was a result of deep thinking, and she was excited to have more time to do what she always wanted to do - voluntary work with children, the fear of the unknown was challenging her immune system.
These emotions were again tested when she met another colleague, Fritz, who was forced to go on early retirement. Fritz validated her concerns through his fears - he never thought he would retire so early, he doesn't know what to do his time, no one will want him because he is too old and much more. As Nicole tried to support the emotional meltdown of her friend empathetically, her fears got triggered. Putting herself in his shoes showed her the potential of limitations, negativity, and sacristy. Now, she doesn't want to retire early anymore, and the steps towards her dreams seem to be a burden to face.
The empathy which Nicole showed to Fritz, though, was a lovely right gesture. It has also drowned her in her downward spiral. The most significant risk of empathy, putting oneself in other's shoes, is that we also take over their emotions, which could leave us vulnerable without offering much help. The word empathy has Greek roots with "em" meaning in and "pathy" relating to Pathos, meaning emotions including pain, pleasure, suffering. As we suffer in the suffering of others, we do run a risk of burning ourselves down. But what shall be an alternative then?
I believe raising the bar one notch with Compassion. Compassion is a Greek word signifying "with suffering," where we suffer with people and trying to find ways to alleviate the suffering. According to the current Dalai Lama, a Tibetan spiritual leader, "we can strive gradually to become more compassionate, that is, we can develop both genuine sympathies for others' suffering and the will to help remove their pain. As a result, our serenity and inner strength will increase." Rather than fatigue, Compassion provides inner strength to help others in their suffering.
The empathetic feeling of the pain of others is the first step of connection, and we also receive lessons for our own life through other's suffering. However, over-empathy has the potential of becoming self-indulgence in our shadows. The self-awareness of "suffering with" to help others while keeping our core is the message of Compassion.
In her next conversation with Fritz, Nicole shared her plans for the future while being attentive to his state of being. For the first time, Fritz saw his situation as a potential blessing in disguise. Nicole felt that in that conversation, she was not running away from suffering, feeling overwhelmed by suffering, or pretending that suffering doesn't exist; she was just there with her truth in his pain.
The power of just being there!
Names and Gender might have been changed is this blog within auto-cosmological genre.
Deepak Bansal, a philosopher, engineer, & entrepreneur, is a founder of MQ Learning. He is passionate about integrating logic, relations, and human values for meaning driven personal and professional development.