The 3rd Barrier to Empathy is:
3. Expecting Change Right Away (Or At All)
Like I said earlier, the toughest part about trying to become more empathetic (especially when trying to become more empathetic to drive change) is that you have to let go of the outcome of changing people.
Tricky, right? You’re practicing something to become better, but in order to practice properly you need to let go of trying to become better.
LOL, life is frickin’ ridiculous, am I right?
Seriously, it seems like a massive cosmic joke, but we really do need to release ourselves from the need to make change in other people and enroll them in our ideas.
Should we still try? Absolutely. That’s the only way the world is going to get the gift you have to offer. BUT, we have to keep in mind that the world is a huge place, and whatever change we’re trying to make has to start off small.
If you look at the concept of Diffusion of Innovation, it makes sense that we have to focus on making change on a small group of early adopters. By nature, our ideas or products or services are not going to be for everyone. Most people, actually, are going to not buy into them.
That said, we don’t naturally know who our allies are – we can make better bets by doing research and finding people who will likely already be bought in to our ideas, but we can never be 100% sure until we ask. So, we’re going to fail.
Expecting some people to not get enrolled, even when we do our best to research them, reach out with true empathy, and get them enrolled in our ideas, is what we need to accept.
Change doesn’t happen right away, or at all. If we give up that expectation and simply work towards enrolling who we can, seeing others and trying our best to align our mission with their needs, we can start tipping the needle in our favor.
We have to think of empathy as a tool for a farmer, not a carpenter.
Farmers invest. They plant seeds, and do their best to control what they can (soil pH, nutrients, water, temperature to a point), but at the end, a bunch of random things could ruin a crop. Plagues of locusts, heat waves, not enough rain, immigration policies, etc.
Carpenters take things they have and make things out of it. Everything is within their control – their tools, the wood they’ve sourced, and the output. Carpenters have control step by step by step.
Empathy is planting seeds. You’re seeing people, hearing them out, and understanding where they’re coming from, even if you disagree. It’s fostering a relationship, putting in emotional investment, and at the end, they still might not buy into the change you’re selling, or they might have a change of heart, but you’ve already moved past this relationship.
Emotional seeds sprout immediately sometimes, and never sprout in others, and sometimes will sprout at random times due to circumstances you absolutely cannot control.
This is why empathy is hard. You have to give up your ego. You have to do it just to do it, and you have to let go of the outcome.
However, empathy is a muscle, and with more and more practice, you can get better and better at it. The world needs more empathy, so why not get some practice in?