There are a great deal of benefits to the “always on” and connected world we live in today.
We have instantaneous access to the activities of those we care about most. We can quickly find people and services to help when we are in need. We can efficiently get educated on a new topic and expand our horizons to grow.
Most social researchers and psychologists would agree that one area of human development that seems to be in decline as a result of our connected world is empathy. Our ability to “walk in the shoes” of someone else, see experiences from their viewpoint, understand their perspective, and feel what they feel, seems to be in rapid decline.
Our willingness and ability to empathize with those we care about most is an essential component to build the kind of healthy, lasting relationships we all desire.
As we continue on our journey to build and strengthen our character, it is important that we acknowledge the risks that our connected world brings to our ability to empathize with others and take some necessary steps before it is too late, and we lose the skill altogether.
There are several simple steps we can all take to improve this most needed interpersonal skill:
- Listen more and talk less.
- Hide our phones and be totally present.
- Ask a few simple, open-ended questions instead of blurting out some solution or “brilliant” idea. “When that happened, how did you feel?” “What else was racing through your mind when they said that.”
The above examples are common, practical steps that we all know we should do and just probably need a little encouragement and motivation to kick things in gear. We all need to get motivated : )
However, there is one fun and meaningful exercise that we probably haven’t tried in the past. This exercise has been proven time and again to improve this most needed interpersonal skill of empathy.
Taking away one of our senses, especially our sight, has been proven to expose our gaps in empathy and with some simple practice, we can significantly improve our emotional connection to those we care about most. Here are a few steps to get things rolling:
- Use bandanas, blindfolds, or just be creative on totally blocking the sight of you and the other person.
- Start a conversation about the simple things that occurred during the last 24 hours. Perhaps share a discussion about some upcoming plans or a prior experience. Move beyond the facts and describe how you felt and ask the other person to describe their feelings around the events.
- As we grow in comfort with this visually impaired interaction, we can eventually gain the courage to talk about the difficult topics we probably have been avoiding in our close relationships. In these difficult conversations, work hard to keep the discussion focused on our feelings, not simply passing judgement and shame onto the other person.
Empathy is a critical skill for us to build. We need to keep our eye on the prize of building our empathy to improve the relationships with those we care about most despite how difficult it is to work through some deep-seated issues.
As we become intentional about growing our empathy before it is too late in our ever-expanding, electronically connected world, we build and strengthen our character and Character Creates Opportunity to build healthy relationships with those we care about most.
PS – Have some fun with the blindfolds…and try not to take things too seriously.