- Thoughts for inspired living

July 23, 2008


Filed under: John Morgan's Blog — John Morgan @ 7:13 am

I could never warm up to the phrase, “I know how you feel” simply because it’s impossible to know how another feels even if you experienced the same set of circumstances. I’ve always considered the phrase a self serving, bald face lie. But now, I’m beginning to see a glimmer of truth, not so much in the expression, but in the experiencing of it.

Let me explain. In the past, when someone told me about their pain (emotional or physical), I would express sympathy but could offer no empathy. I was like the stereotypical model of the treating physician. Remain uninvolved in the emotion and you’ll provide a quicker, clearer diagnosis and treatment. Experience has taught me that that’s an unbalanced, outdated model.

I’ve seen people offer empathy and less sound advice than I would offer and get better results. It got me curious. What is it about this thing called empathy that can have less skilled people garner more effective results? Why do some highly trained, experienced doctors fail where a rookie nurse practitioner succeeds giving the same advice? One touched them and the other didn’t.

This isn’t a rant on physicians, only the model that most of them use.

When you lack empathy, this is what you communicate: I refuse to know what it’s like to be you, but I demand that you know what it’s like to be me. That’s a prescription for failure.

I also found out why I haven’t gone to critically acclaimed, yet depressing movies. My logical explanation was hard to argue with – “Who wants to spend money to get depressed?” Underneath the cover of that logic is a fear of feeling the emotions the actors so capably display on the screen. The truth is if you cannot feel the full spectrum of emotions, you will be diminished in your helping of another, and you’ll wear the cloak of stoic isolation for yourself.

This is not to say that you put your systematic approach aside. It’s simply more prudent to balance out that model by attempting to sense what another is experiencing. Empathy has 2 immediate benefits:

  1. It allows you to more ably assist another.
  2. It allows you to be more of a human being and become more approachable.

Why could we tell our mother but not our father (or vice-versa) about a painful situation in our life? One provided empathy and the other provided just a strategy alone.

Feeling empathy has been a difficult transition for me and it remains a work in progress. It’s probably why I would have never been a great actor. I didn’t take the time to personally explore emotions that I had a fear of feeling. Great actors dig within themselves to find that feeling. That’s why they give such relatable, superb performances and touch hidden places within us.

If empathy is not in your kit, get curious about it. Try on the role and see what great results you can get for yourself and others.

All the best,


P.S. I invite you to explore my websites.

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