empathy – the ability to share someone else’s feelings or experiences by imagining what it would be like to be in their situation
Today it’s #empathyday.
Every one of us has the ability to demonstrate empathy, to be empathic. It’s a personality trait that grows and develops within us. By nurturing this trait, it can grow and blossom.
When I think of an empathic person, I think of…
- Someone who really listens. Someone who listens non-judgmentally and doesn’t make assumptions. Someone who wants to learn.
- Someone who gives their time to understand, who doesn’t rush away or cut you off. Someone who is comfortable to sometimes sit alongside you in silence until you’re ready to share your thoughts.
- Someone who reaches out to you, even if you haven’t explicitly asked them to, because they know, they’ve picked up on something that hasn’t been spoken.
- Someone who allows you to say what you want to say without interrupting and trying to second guess what it is you’re trying to express. Someone who can respect your thoughts and opinions, even if they differ from theirs.
- Someone who doesn’t push their opinions and beliefs on you, but listens and tries to see and understand your perspective. Someone who is ready to question.
- Someone who wants to help, who wants to see change and will do whatever they can to do just that.
Some people are naturally more empathic than others. I’m not a psychologist and have no scientific background, so I can’t explain why this is. But from my own life experience, through childhood, as a teenager and in adulthood, I have come across both empathic people and those who don’t show empathy.
Luckily, empathy isn’t something that’s genetically ‘fixed’ inside us. It’s something that can be taught and developed. It isn’t a matter of being inherently empathic or not. It’s something that we can all – every single one of us – have and use.
One powerful tool for learning and developing empathy is reading. This isn’t a new concept, there is much written about the relationship between reading and empathy. By connecting with a character in a book and becoming involved in their story, we develop our understanding of their feelings and actions, which develops empathy. Between the covers of a book, we meet people who may never cross paths with in real life. We see things from different viewpoints. We see new situations and travel to parts of the world that we may never visit in person. Quite simply, reading opens up the world to us.
Knowing and understanding this, it makes perfect sense to develop a love of reading in children, so they too have access to the world; so that they too can wonder and view and question and feel. In books, children can see themselves and can also see others. They can connect and relate and learn and understand.
There is such a wealth of children’s books available today, stories that can take children on so many different journeys. There are books to make them laugh and cry, to explore their emotions, open up their minds and help them to grow as individuals.
For #empathyday ‘The Empathy Lab’ have chosen 50 books for their ‘Read for Empathy’ list, for children from 4-16 years old, which can be found on their website. They are also running online events throughout the day to help children read, connect and act using empathy, which is their focus this year – Read, Connect, Act. Developing our ability to be empathic is so very important, and equally as important is that we then act empathically.
Of course, reading for empathy isn’t just for children. As adults, reading can help us to develop our empathy and improve our wellbeing.
Reading has always been an important part of my life, from a very young age, when a visit to the library was the highlight of my week. Reading has helped me to deal with and gain a better understanding of difficult situations and emotions, from being bullied to battling depression. I often share blog posts about my own experiences for the sole purpose of reaching out and hopefully finding someone who can grasp onto my words, my experiences, and find a connection and feel a little less alone.
Right now, reading is helping me learn to live with the most painful grief; the grief I carry since losing my little boy, Ned, in 2016.
And perhaps most important of all, reading gives me hope – hope that things can get better, that I can keep taking small steps forwards in my life, that I can grow and find my own place in the world.