When Donald Trump visited Tucson, the angry photos of the rally made us hurt. But when we look at the intersection between Trump supporters and those of Bernie Sanders, it makes us pause. Folks are feeling passionate about this election and their candidates because so much of life has been impacted by financial duress and political decisions beyond our control.
How interesting it is to see one’s own concerns or experiences reflected in what seems like the opposition.
The inability to understand how someone else feels and to experience their emotions as your own is at the root of issues of violence. If a person can really feel for the other, it is hard to also do violence against them. Empathy fosters our emotional intelligence and also reduces tendencies for aggressive behavior.
Empathy is obviously missing in so many of our social spaces today, as evidenced from the hateful rhetoric of Trump to Bernie supporters responding to Hillary Clinton’s slogans with “F- — her.”
Trust us, we know that it is hard to change the ingrained beliefs and behaviors of adults. So what is the solution? Empathy education. It feels big, but we can make empathy an integrated practice in our lives through small steps.
Through empathy education, we really could make America great again. We could transform our homes, our communities and even our country.
Here are our six tips for cultivating empathy within yourself, as well as infusing empathy education into your heart, home or even classroom.
1. Commit to knowing yourself and others. Consciously recognize the other person’s feelings by naming your own emotions and then making space for theirs. Listen, be curious, and ask. Reflect on the things that trigger an emotional or physical response in yourself.
2. Encourage your children to play often! Play is where children naturally learn empathy and other social skills. Play moves children from “me” to “you” and then to “us.”
3. Talk and connect. Consciously work to hone the art of conversation. It is within the words of our meaningful conversations as well as the silence between our words where we create opportunity to reflect upon what was said and the person speaking. Be genuine.
4. Take digital sabbaticals. Stay present and in the moment by avoiding the distraction of your phone. Listen nonverbally during conversations and interactions. Self-regulate your anxieties through deep breathing and relaxation instead of through instant digital gratification.
5. Courageously challenge your viewpoint and judgments. Challenge yourself to remain open to the opinions and actions of others. Discover why other people’s thoughts and actions make sense to them by asking questions. Then listen without judgment.
6. Expand empathy out into the world. Identify one place within your immediate environment where empathy is missing. It could be for a cause, person, family or community. Find ways to bring it there. Imagine and learn what is needed and give it to them. Raising money doesn’t count. Get your hands deliciously dirty with empathy. If you are a teacher, make this a class project.
Let’s play together to grow the foundations of empathy in our young children. Let’s create a culture of expectation for empathy with our teens and college-age youth.
Let’s model more adult empathy and initiate empathy action into the hearts of our communities. And let us work together now for a more empathic presidential election in 2020.