Oprah Winfrey stated, “Leadership is about empathy. It is about having the ability to relate to and connect with people for the purpose of inspiring and empowering their lives.” Empathy has become a primary focus for life in the 21st century.
Don’t Be Afraid of Feelings
Humans are composed of body and spirit. Fact and feelings. The old adage “sticks and stones may break my bones, but words can never hurt me” does not apply anymore. Merriam-Webster’s dictionary defines empathy as the following: “the action of understanding, being aware of, being sensitive to, and vicariously experiencing the feelings, thoughts, and experience of another of either the past or present without having the feelings, thoughts, and experience fully communicated in an objectively explicit manner.”
Recognizing the importance of feelings and acknowledging a person’s emotion(s), especially in times of distress does not lead to pampering them. Nor it is a sign of weakness. Actually, displaying empathy is a sign of strength. Obviously, facts are still important.
Empathy is Here to Stay
While one can never dismiss concrete situations, acknowledging one’s emotions are essential for moving forward. The increased focus on mental health in recent years definitely shows the trend of empathy will stay. Empathy is not a mere passing fad!
According to author Kendra Cherry in her article Importance and Benefits of Empathy, “Empathy leads to helping behavior, which benefits social relationships. We are naturally social creatures. Things that aid in our relationships with other people benefits us as well.” I have discovered that the most difficult customer interactions remain tough in the situations where I failed to demonstrate empathy. Becoming more aware of the importance to acknowledge emotions, without discounting them, I have been better able to develop rapport.
Acknowledgment of emotion with a supporting statement acts as a bridge between yourself and others. People start to develop more trust when you are willing to LISTEN to their unique situations. Phrases such as “That would have hurt my feelings also” or “Tell me what you see as your choices here” are just a couple things to say or write aiming at empathy with a client, coworker, spouse, or neighbor. For a more extensive list of empathetic statements please check out the link in the resources section below.
“In a very real sense we have two minds, one that thinks and one that feels,” writes Daniel Goleman in Emotional Intelligence: Why It Can Matter More Than IQ. Use both your mind and heart when interacting with other. Be empathetic. Be reasonable. Encourage someone in a tough situation this week!
“Then something Tookish woke up inside him, and he wished to go and see the great mountains, and hear the pine-trees and the waterfalls, and explore the caves, and wear a sword instead of a walking-stick.”
This quote comes from the opening pages of J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Hobbit. Readers unfamiliar with the background of this novel may need some context to see the relevance of this passage to today’s topic. Basically, the protagonist of The Hobbit is Bilbo Baggins—a hobbit who at the beginning of the story lives a quiet life free from any big adventure or risk-taking. His tranquil existence is seemingly upset upon the arrival of the wizard Gandalf and a troupe of adventuring dwarves. The wizard succeeds in convincing Bilbo to join the dwarven expedition to reclaim treasure stolen by a dragon. Bilbo’s role is to serve as the burglar—someone quick and nimble—to steal the gold from Smaug the Dragon. I always found Bilbo’s inner struggle whether to embrace his Baggins [low-risk, simple] side or his Tookish [adventurous] family lineage.
Frequently, I find myself a chimera—a hybrid—composed of my rational and scientific mentality juxtaposed against my life of faith. According to John Paul II, “Faith and reason are like two wings on which the human spirit rises to the contemplation of truth; and God has placed in the human heart a desire to know the truth—in a word, to know himself—so that, by knowing and loving God, men and women may also come to the fullness of truth about themselves” (Fides Et Ratio).
Pitting faith against reason or vice versa only frustrates man’s pursuit toward a joyous existence. I know this to be true because I experienced life when I shut out faith and when I land on the other extreme as well and jettison my rational side. Similarly, Bilbo Baggins did not fully embrace reality nor fully attain a fulfilling life until he incorporated the Tookish [faith, adventurous] side. I look to Tolkien’s literary work with a character who resembles myself at my current stage in life. Recently, I have become too logical, too rigid, and too rational in my approach to living. I need to embrace my Tookish side. Below are three concrete ways whereby I may accomplish this goal.
Maya Angelou once said, “I don’t trust anyone who doesn’t laugh.” Bold claim. Lacking in laughter, I tend to struggle with being too serious. I think part of my seriousness stems from my desire to control daily events. Amidst the constant curve-balls life throws at you sometimes the only thing to do is to laugh. Mark Twain wittingly declared, “The human race has only one effective weapon and that is laughter!” While I dispute the notion that humor is our sole weapon, Twain has a point—laughter serves a remedy to an ailing situation.
Watching television comedies like The Office and Home Improvement with my wife help me re-charge from a toilsome day. The levity of sitcoms provides me perspective on my day. Through the antics of the employees at Dunder Mifflin and Tim “The Tool Man” Taylor, I learn to deal with stress in a healthy manner. I developed an ability to have faith that things will work out in the end. I need continue to embrace the roller coaster adventure of life!
Out of the Mouths of Babes
According to Matthew 21:16, Jesus tells the scribes and Pharisees, “have you never read the text, ‘Out of the mouths of infants and nurslings you have brought forth praise’?” Now this passage is actually a direct quote from Psalms 8:3. This psalm mentions the amazing power of God and His praiseworthy nature. Throughout history, the phrase “out of the mouths of babes” has developed into an idiom to refer to the keen insight the young/inexperienced may be able to provide someone “wiser” or “older”. My children abound with wisdom [even though they are oblivious to that fact!]. While the old and wise wizard Gandalf, solicited Bilbo out of his reserved and cautious hobbit hole, my situation is almost the inverse. My young [wise] children allow me to engage with my Tookish [faith-filled, funny-loving, witty, adventurous] side.
Listening to the Holy Spirit
Heeding the call of the Holy Spirit is a third way I embrace my “Tookish” side. According to the Catechism of the Catholic Church number 1030, there are seven gifts of the Holy Spirit. Today, I am only going to focus on two: courage and right judgement. Both gifts I believe to be invaluable for me to pursue adventure in my life. It takes courage to go on a journey—whether it is physical or spiritual in nature. Gandalf provided courage and right judgment to Bilbo in aiding him on his unexpected journey. The author of The Hobbit, J.R.R. Tolkien was a devout Catholic whose faith permeated his fiction. As his son Michael once said about the impact of Catholicism on his father’s work, “[it] pervaded all his thinking, beliefs and everything else.” The Holy Spirit enters my life unexpectedly at times in my life granting me courage and right judgment.
St. Paul tells us in 1 Corinthians 12:4-7, “There are different kinds of spiritual gifts but the same Spirit; 5 there are different forms of service but the same Lord; 6 there are different workings but the same God who produces all of them in everyone. 7 To each individual the manifestation of the Spirit is given for some benefit.”Embracing my inherent gifts given to me by the Holy Spirit will allow me to find a healthy balance in my spiritual life. I will learn to embrace my adventurous and jovial side with jettisoning my rational, reserved nature.
Embrace Your Inner Took!
As I wrap up, I need to make the following disclaimer: embracing your Tookish side will change you. Be prepared! When Biblo Baggins returns from his long journey with Gandalf and the dwarves, his fellow hobbits viewed him differently. Tolkien writes,
Indeed Bilbo found he had lost more than spoons – he had lost his reputation. It is true that for ever after he remained an elf-friend, and had the honour of dwarves, wizards, and all such folk as ever passed that way; but he was no longer quite respectable. He was in fact held by all the hobbits of the neighbourhood to be “queer” – except by his nephews and nieces on the Took side, but even they were not encouraged in their friendship by their elders.
Do not be discouraged by this news. Whenever I despair about any changes from embracing the life of faith I remember Christ’s words, “For whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me will find it. (Matthew 16:25)!