I hate to burst your bubble, but nobody noticed. Nobody cares as much about your life, your problems, your perspective, your struggles, and your wins as you do, nobody sees your flaws, nobody knew the difference between what you intended to say and what you actually said. Nobody noticed that your pants are tighter this week than last week. Nobody is judging your actions today against the to do list you had in your mind. Nobody cares that this thing you’re going through is triggering because it reminds you of a bad childhood memory. Nobody notices, and nobody cares because they’re busy. They’re busy worrying about all those things for themselves. You know how they tell you to imagine people in their underwear, so you don’t get nervous speaking? I’m not a big fan of that much flesh in my brain, so let’s go with imagining everyone in a bubble. Like a giant bubble that you blew from a giant wand like when you were a kid. From the inside of that bubble, you can see your own reflection against the outside world. And the only one who can see what you’re seeing is you. Looking through this literal bubble distorts the picture you see in front of you. It’s your perspective only. Your personal filter. Guess what, no one else is in your bubble with you. Even the people that know you well. They’re all distorted by their own bubbles. The fact that you care so much what they think or are mad that they can’t read your mind is all bullshit you’ve made up in your own head. No one knows your bubble, can see from your perspective, or really cares how cool or shitty your bubble is. They’re navigating life with their own bubble. What’s important here is knowing that the bubbles exist.
This is how I see empathy. A long time ago, my friends made fun of me for offering up an idea of a world where we all saw colors differently, but we would never know if it was true because we can’t trade eyeballs. We were taught blue is blue, but what if I saw blue as your green? We all have a good laugh at that one occasionally, but this was the beginning of me understanding the perspective shift I needed to learn empathy. I’m convinced the best gift you can give yourself in life is the ability to be empathetic. Empathy for me is knowing that the bubbles exist and that my bubble is only useful to me. The more I can squint through my own bubble and try and see through someone else’s, I become a better human, I get happier, and I make better decisions. I don’t mean go out and teach other people empathy, so you can benefit from it, I mean YOU need empathy. Unless you’re a parent, then you should teach empathy to your kids. That’s your job as a human. But if you want to live happier, be a contributor, and make an impact on the lives of others, then start here. Empathy has been a huge factor in my ability to change my perspective on life and just start being happier without changing any of my circumstances.
It’s important to distinguish the difference between empathy and sympathy. Back to our bubble analogy. Say you look out of your bubble and you see someone else’s bubble is cloudy and dark. Sympathy is feeling bad for them that their bubble is cloudy and dark or agreeing with them that they can’t do anything about it or excusing their crappy behavior because they have a cloudy and dark bubble and probably can’t see out of it. Empathy is seeing that bubble and trying to project what it would look like from their view to gain new perspective. Once you have this perspective, you may learn something about other bubbles or be able to stand with them and help them navigate this moment. Or you may just let go of your expectations for them now that you know they can barely see out of their bubble.
Think of the great friends, leaders, bosses, or parents, in your life. I would guess they were empathetic. On the flip side, I’m sure there are many more examples of people who lack empathy that you’ve dealt with. They’re not bad people, it is just one of those skills that hold people back. I’ve come up against awesome people who lacked empathy and I can see clearly that it truly holds them back from achieving what they want. I can’t change the fact that they lack empathy and it guides them to bad actions and decisions, but I can work on upping mine and figuring out a way to move through it without judgement, resentment, and ego, all things that only penalize me.
Practicing empathy is extremely hard, especially when faced with someone who has opposite views of mine. However, those moments are when you learn the most. Opening your mind instead of closing down and looking through their bubble takes away the anger and defensiveness you may instinctively go to. It’s okay that people have different views. No bubble is the same. You may learn something or at the very least, get less angry.