[Editor’s note: Author Andrew Stillman, Wristband #82, is one of the first people who inquired about potential guest posting opportunities at Primility. Today, he joins Sonia Thompson and Peter Morneault in having his work published here at Primility. I think you’ll appreciate his perspective, and his message.]
We live in a self-centered world.
From both traditional and social media, we are told how to think and act, how we should look, and most importantly, how we should feel.
This infliction of other people’s opinions can alter our own self-worth … and when it does, we can get so caught up in our own heads that we forget about the thoughts and opinions of others.
Here at Primility, the focus is blending pride and humility in order to become a better person. In the center of the two is something we often overlook: empathy.
How I learned the importance of empathy
Empathy is the ability to understand and share the feelings of another person. Often, when we’re in arguments with our friends or loved ones, we forget that they are entitled to an opinion as well.
Our opinion, we too often think, is the only one that matters. “I” statements mutate into pride-driven, self-centered actions … instead of humbly taking into account the other person’s point of view to come to a mutual resolution.
When I started working at the restaurant job I currently use to pay the bills, I had a deep loathing toward my management staff. I dreaded work every day, fighting with them constantly.
I somehow managed to keep my job, but I always felt like everything they did was a personal plot against me. I wanted to be treated a certain way, and I wanted the work environment I was in to be the way that I wanted it … and I created a lot of my own issues by not looking at things from their perspective.
Eventually, I came forth and addressed my issues with my management staff. I opened up about being bullied in my younger years, and how the way they treated me made me revert back to those years of torment, which resulted in the anger I displayed against them so often.
By opening up my own vulnerability, I was able to shine a light of empathy into the people on the management staff. They no longer looked at me as just another name on a piece of paper. They began to recognize that I was a human with emotions and a past, just like everyone else.
Furthermore, it opened up my ability to empathize with them. I learned one manager acted that way toward me because he, too, was bullied and felt a need for his own vindication. The other manager was always told that she was a mistake by her mother, which has led her to think she only deserves the worst in life.
Learning the backstories about these people who I used to view as so villainous softened my heart. I realized that many of us are fueled by pain. We are made up of scars that are hidden beneath our exoskeletons, and sometimes these wounds can be nicked by accident.
I used to feel like I was always right, that my feelings were always justified, and that I was the only one who had ever suffered. But I learned through experiences like these how not to act to the rest of the world.
How committing to empathy will improve your life … and the lives of others
Our constant justifications of our own opinions can hinder our growth as humans … because if we always shoot down any opinion that isn’t our own, we close ourselves off to becoming vulnerable and building deeper relationships.
Modern-day society will tell you the types of things you “need” and “don’t need” to put up with, especially in regards to relationships. When it comes to love and relationships, and other people being involved in our lives, we’re often told that other people’s baggage is not our burden to bear. This may hold some truth — as we cannot be responsible for what people did before we knew them. But ignoring a person’s past, and its influence on who they are today, can put up a divide that can stand between us and potentially rewarding relationships.
We can be so quick to run the other way.
We can suffer from the fear of rejection, from vulnerability, and from not feeling empathy coming from the other party.
And when we do, we too often choose not to face our issues head-on. We don’t address them and work through them. Instead we shell up, remember the negative ways we have been treated similarly by others in our own past, and we push away.
Let’s stop doing this.
Let’s be mindful about balancing pride and humility, and remember to empathize with the thoughts and feelings of those around us.
We all seek empathy from others — but we cannot demand it if we are not willing to give it. This reciprocation of empathy from one person to another is how a meaningful relationship is built.
If we focus on strengthening our relationships, expanding our listening skills, and realizing the world will not end if our opinion isn’t heard, we can work toward a deeper, more sustained feeling of internal happiness.
And help others get there too.
Flickr Creative Commons Image via Len Matthews.