Barriers to Empathy, pt. 2

The second barrier to empathy (see the 1st here) is:

2.Expecting Empathy Back

If you’re of the mindset that you can use empathy to drive change, you’re already looking at this as a tactic in order to get something you want.

Whether it’s enrolling a team in your leadership or vision, raising money for a good cause, or getting more sales for your new product/service/book, you’re looking for something – and there’s nothing wrong with that.

However, when trying to have empathy for others in order to get something back, often we also want empathy back as well.

“Why do I have to be the empathetic one? Why can’t they acknowledge me too?”

“I get that part of their argument is correct, why can’t they see the part where I’m correct?”

If these feelings sounds as familiar to you as they sound to me, then you’re struggling with the notion that this is some sort of exchange that has gone poorly. This is the feeling like you’ve been conned out of something; that you’ve been sucked into falling for a ploy that doesn’t benefit you.

But that’s the thing – the toughest part about trying to be empathetic so you can benefit is that notion in the first place. You have to want to be empathetic to understand others, even knowing that a lot of the time they might not have empathy for you.

The analogy I have for this is that empathy is like a job where you walk around letting people take a dollar from your wallet or purse, and then maybe they’ll decide to put money back in, but most will just take your money.

Sounds crazy, but being willing to give up that money in the hope that you’re doing good for other people, and that you’re building up a reputation as someone who helps others without needing anything back is actually the best way to get people to put money back in. BUT, you have to allow for heavy losses in the short term.

Some people will try to take advantage of you, true. But you also have to understand that having empathy is not letting people walk over you. Having empathy is understanding that given everything that’s happened to someone, they’re right.

Empathy for a remorseless killer does not mean I should let them kill me or anyone else. Empathy for that killer means I understand that given their background, biology, and life, if I went through exactly what they did, I’d probably be that killer too. It also means that if I see this killer trying to attack me, I won’t hesitate to hit them with a bat until the police arrive.

So I’d say this is the biggest barrier – reframing the idea of having empathy from sacrificing yourself to the idea of helping others. It’s reframing from being a victim who is exploited to someone who has enough to give that they can be that helpful, generous person. It’s reframing from being shit on to being someone who has boundaries and can also protect themselves when other people seem to be trying to take advantage of you.

Empathy is really hard in that you’ll see people, and they won’t see you back. But it’s just like that quote from Cool Runnings about success – if you’re not enough without it, you never be enough with it.

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