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Empathy and Compassion: The Keys to a Warm Society

Updated: May 3

A colleague coach recently found himself somewhat rushed behind an older lady at the checkout of a supermarket. His next client would be at the door in 5 minutes, but luckily he noticed just in time that his coffee was out. While he placed the coffee on the conveyor belt, he saw in the corner of his eye how the older lady in front of him leisurely placed her items in her walker, but had not yet paid.


Somewhat irritated, he politely asked if she could pay first so that he could be on time for his appointment. With a half-raised head, she looked at him and said, "But then I still have to put my things in my walker, right?"


Perplexed by her logic, he wanted to say something unkind, but he managed to restrain himself just in time. In the following seconds, he let his frustration give way to empathy and compassion, and in all calmness, he understood that the lady in question might no longer be able to keep up with this fast-paced world and simply did things her own way.


With a short delay, a good feeling, and a pack of coffee in his hand, he arrived at his front door where his appointment was already waiting for him. The client put a big grin on his face and said, “Hey Jos, good to see you again, how nice that you took the time to get coffee.”


How do empathy and compassion differ from each other?

Empathy is about the ability to empathize with another person and understand and feel what they are experiencing. Compassion goes a step further and involves actively wanting to help another person.


Someone who is empathetic can put themselves in someone else's shoes, while someone with compassion also does this but wants to alleviate the suffering of another out of compassion.


Why do we need empathy?

If we always see everything from our own point of view, we actually live a very impoverished life. As humans, we need the ability to see things from another perspective in order to learn and grow as individuals.


Additionally, we need empathy to prevent conflicts. We cannot all think the same way and approach everything in the same way. That would compromise our autonomy; after all, we are not robots.


Why do we need compassion?

While compassion is about actively wanting to help someone, it can also be about small things like stepping aside in a corridor when someone wants to pass. Compassion makes life more bearable for others and fosters a sense of community. If no one helps each other anymore, you can no longer speak of a society. That is why many philosophers believe that empathy and compassion are innate in human nature.


Furthermore, various studies have shown that we are happier when we live in peace and harmony, and empathy and compassion are necessary ingredients for that.


Why do some people show little compassion and empathy?

Despite the fact that we all have compassion and empathy naturally, these are also qualities that we can consciously ignore. Sometimes the cause is excessive and consciously fueled selfishness, but in other cases, the person may not be able to do much about it. Coaching or therapy is then a solution, but the person must be intrinsically motivated for it.


Causes of little compassion and empathy include:


Severe hurt: Sometimes, being hurt can cause someone to lose trust in (most) people and only focus on their own needs.


Upbringing: In families where there is a lot of unrest, children can learn at a young age to stand up for themselves and take care of themselves. Unlike in a harmonious family, they do not learn how to use their empathy and compassion.


Depression: Someone who is depressed already has trouble taking care of themselves, let alone showing empathy or compassion for another person.


Psychological disorders: Psychological disorders such as certain forms of personality disorders, such as narcissistic personality disorder or antisocial personality disorder, can hinder the ability to show compassion and empathy. In these cases, specialized therapy is usually needed to address the underlying psychological causes.


How would a world without empathy and compassion look like?

A world without empathy and compassion would be a dystopian reality, characterized by a lack of humanity and connectedness. In such a world, people would not understand or support each other, and selfishness would prevail.


Firstly, a lack of empathy would mean that people are unable to empathize with the feelings and experiences of others. This would lead to a lack of understanding, tolerance, and compassion. People would not be able to understand each other's pain, joy, or needs, resulting in superficial and distant relationships. Conflicts would be common and difficult to resolve because there would be no willingness to understand each other's perspectives.


Additionally, the absence of compassion would mean that people are not actively willing to help or support others. Without compassion, people would not be inclined to assist others in times of need or to advocate for the well-being of the community as a whole. This would result in a lack of solidarity and cooperation, making society as a whole weaker and less resilient.


A world without empathy and compassion would also be a world where selfishness and self-interest are the norm. People would primarily focus on their own needs and desires, without considering the needs or feelings of others. This would lead to a culture of selfishness and competition, where it's every person for themselves, and cooperation and community spirit are lacking.


How would a world with more empathy and compassion look like?

A world with more empathy and compassion would be a world where people truly see, understand, and support each other. This would manifest on various levels and in different aspects of human life.


On an individual level, people would be more open to each other's emotions and experiences. Instead of quickly judging or condemning, they would make an effort to empathize with others' situations and understand their feelings. This would lead to deeper connections between people and a sense of shared humanity, regardless of differences in background, culture, or belief.


On a social level, a world with more empathy and compassion would be a society where solidarity and mutual support are highly valued. People would actively be willing to help and support each other, especially in times of crisis or need. This would result in a stronger sense of community and solidarity, where no one is left to fend for themselves.


On a political level, empathy and compassion would lead to more inclusive and fair policies. Decision-makers would be more aware of the needs and interests of all citizens and would strive for policies that ensure equal opportunities and well-being for everyone. This would result in a society where social justice and equality are central.


On an international level, a world with more empathy and compassion would lead to a decrease in conflicts and an increase in peaceful cooperation between countries and cultures. Instead of acting out of self-interest or power politics, nations would seek understanding, dialogue, and mutual respect. This would contribute to a more peaceful and prosperous world for all people.


In summary, a world with more empathy and compassion would be a world where human relationships are characterized by understanding, support, and compassion. It would be a world where no one is excluded or ignored, and where cooperation and interconnectedness are central in all aspects of human life.


Can empathy and compassion be relearned?

Because empathy and compassion are innate, you can relatively easily relearn them. A specialized coach like myself, or a therapist, has the tools and knowledge to rekindle your empathy and compassion. I personally only coach entrepreneurs and executives, but someone who is fully specialized in this area is the colleague coach (and therapist) I mentioned earlier named Jos van Boxtel from Mindspring.


Usually, after a few sessions, you'll feel like a completely different person and you'll immediately experience the benefits in how your environment responds to you. When you show more empathy and compassion yourself, you automatically receive it in return.


 

Question and answer about empathy and compassion


What is the difference between empathy and compassion?


Answer: Empathy refers to the ability to empathize with another person and understand their feelings, while compassion goes a step further and involves actively wanting to help alleviate the suffering of another.


Why do we need compassion?


Compassion makes life more bearable for others and contributes to a sense of community. Showing compassion leads to a more peaceful and harmonious society and contributes to the well-being of individuals.


Why do some people show little compassion and empathy?


There can be various reasons why people show little compassion and empathy, such as hurt, upbringing, depression, and psychological disorders.


How can we relearn empathy and compassion?


Because empathy and compassion are innate, they can be relatively easily relearned. Specialized coaches or therapists have the tools and knowledge to strengthen empathy and compassion.


What are some causes of little compassion and empathy?


Causes of little compassion and empathy can include severe hurt, upbringing in a turbulent environment, depression, and psychological disorders such as narcissistic personality disorder or antisocial personality disorder.

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