Empathy is Magic

by | Apr 2, 2024 | Blog | 0 comments

Hello! It’s been a few months since I’ve had the pleasure of writing to you and I’m excited to check in.

First, on the personal side… I’ve already planted half of my vegetable garden and it was so completely enjoyable. Remember how challenging this was for me a couple of years ago? My inner jackal did have a few things to say this year, but not nearly as many as in past years. And, I gave her loads of empathy so we made it through. I am thrilled about this. I can’t wait to see my seedlings pop up! If it’s a successful garden, I’ll share pictures in a future letter.

Second, I’ve been thinking about the NVC process of empathy lately for a variety of reasons, partly because I don’t hear people talking about it much these days and I’m curious about that.

I think empathy is magic!! Listening for feelings and needs can transform rage into openness, deep sadness into clarity or relief, hurt into connection … in a heartbeat. 

The skill of it needs to be learned, and once we become comfortable with it, we can take it anywhere. Anywhere!

And, yet, I think we can forget about it sometimes. Last night I was having a conversation with my wife about something kind of challenging that we were trying to decide on. I said something that took us back several steps and I couldn’t figure out what had been her trigger. We decided to stop talking about it.

On the way home about an hour later, I asked her about it. She told me that she didn’t think I truly understood how challenging the situation was for her and how worried she was about it. 

I had forgotten empathy and had moved directly into decision-making. Ugh.

I instantly remembered a colleague telling me that he thinks we sometimes (often?) forget to give empathy to our closest loved ones because we want to take the easy way out. We assume that there’s connection more times than not. Bingo.

That’s what I did. I forgot to give empathy first and it made a challenging conversation even more challenging. Deep breath.

Fortunately, I could rectify that by giving her empathy then. I simply said, “Oh, I hear that thinking about going on this trip is really concerning for you? It’s about integrity? Feeling good about how you’re showing up? You want to go AND it has an impact on you?”  It took about 3 minutes, she felt heard and we were able to continue our conversation about the thing we were deciding on.

Empathy is magic.

The next thing about empathy that’s magic to me is its healing power. To be heard with such depth and care is better than any medicine. When I first learned it, I wanted my own personal empath to hear me 24/7. I had many empathy buddies (I still have 2 empathy buddies that I meet with regularly). In addition, I went to 2-3 practice groups every week. I received empathy as often as I could.

I healed layers upon layers of trauma and pain. Thinking back on it today, it still seems like a miracle – a gift way greater than I was ever told I would receive or even thought possible.

So, now that I’m thinking about teaching an empathy course, the first one I’ve taught in a few years, I am fired up! I’m excited to create space for people to finetune their empathy skills and receive the healing that can happen when we’re listened to in an empathic way.

Some people think the empathy model of listening for feelings and needs is clunky. I say it doesn’t have to be. 

To readily bring empathy on the road with us requires that we develop our own empathy voice, which means making empathy guesses that focus on feelings and needs AND that sound like us. It’s a technique that’s well worth cultivating.

Empathy is a part of my life and everyday conversation. I regularly give empathy to my family members, my mechanic, grocery clerks who look tired and need a little TLC, and anyone I cross paths with. 

Probably, the most surprising and heartwarming empathy I gave was to my elderly parents in the last few years of their lives. They talked to me about how scary aging was, how they worried about their kids after their death, and how it felt to be close to their own death. It was gut-wrenching sometimes and I will cherish these conversations for the rest of my life.

Developing my own empathy skills has allowed me opportunities to deepen my connections with many people, which has enriched my life and theirs too. It’s a gift that we bring those we come in contact with and those we love.

Do you remember the first time you received empathy for the first time from someone who really got you? Did it affect you the same way it affected me? I felt vulnerable and in awe. It almost took my breath away. Empathy is magic.

Here’s to April and all the opportunities you will have to offer a moment of empathy to someone who may heal a little bit because of it.

With warmth, 

Mary

By Mary Mackenzie

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