Talking to a friend the other day, we got around to discussing a horrible situation she had been in. She’d found out she had been the subject of gossip. It was all rather unpleasant, and she had understandably been rather upset by it.
She didn’t feel she had done anything wrong, so felt utter indignation at the thought of being talked about in such a negative way. But at the same time her confidence had taken a real bashing – if people apparently hated her even though she hadn’t done anything wrong, what hope did she have with other people she considered as friends?
But it led to something very interesting.
She put herself in the shoes of the person who’d started up the rumours, and took some time to consider that viewpoint instead. And suddenly she felt a whole lot better about the incident.
Instead of it just feeling like a spiteful outpouring, done for no reason other than to hurt, she could see another side to it. She could understand that this woman had been upset herself, and (whilst my friend didn’t agree with the reasons) she could see that it wasn’t just done out of spite – there was a lot more to it than that.
Empathy is really the opposite of spiritual meanness. It’s the capacity to understand that every war is both won and lost. And that someone else’s pain is as meaningful as your own.
If you can take the time to see things from another point of view, you can free yourself from that awful feeling that someone has it in for you for no reason at all. You can feel better about it. You don’t actually have to agree with their viewpoint, or make excuses for their behaviour. But if you can see where they are coming from, you might actually be able to let go of the anger and indignation. It’s about transcending the behaviour that the other person gave into, and being at peace with them, and with yourself.
Empathy in this sort of situation isn’t about being soft. It’s not about making excuses for the other person’s behaviour, or condoning it. it’s about being the bigger person. Empathy really is powerful.
© Liz Wootton 2013. All Rights Reserved