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The Key Components of Empathy

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In the century of the technology, everyone rushes to chase their goals to become successful people in their lives. People are extremely busy with following their personal dreams, and they have a lot of things to care about. College students struggle with handling twenty-credit courses, while still enjoying life. Working parents struggle with following their career goals while improving their relationship with their children. Elderly people struggle with maintaining their mental and physical health. Everyone is busy cares about big things, including their careers, their goals, and their work-life balance. The question is, how much have we had tried to understand other people’s feelings struggling with their problems? Have we ever had time to care about other’s feelings when they are falling down after their broken marriages? If we have ever tried to understand one’s feelings, then we have tried to be empathic. In other words, the experience of understanding another person’s feelings, thoughts, and condition from their point of view, is called empathy. While conflicts occur whenever people disagree over their values, ideas, or desires, one key component to resolving conflicts is understanding one’s feelings, values and ideas. As a result, empathy can significantly resolve one’s conflicts with their partner, colleagues, or friends. The three key components of how we connect to people and use empathy are body language, emotional expressions, and our responses to them.

Body language is one of the key parts of empathy. It is a vital part of our daily communication even though we may not be totally aware of it. Three main aspects of body language are eye contact, posture, and facial expression. Eye contact can show how a person pays attention, how they feel about another person. Last week, I met two of my friends, Sean and Ava, and I was witnessing them talking to each other and sharing the same feelings. Sean was talking about his experiences as an only child, and how it is hard in some situations. “Sometimes I really feel like I need someone else other than my parents to be able to count on him”, Sean said while he was directly looking into Ava’s eyes. Sean’s upper eyelids were dropped, and his eyebrows were slightly angled upward above the nose forming an inverted ‘V’. I could feel sadness and disappointment in Sean’s face. On the other hand, Ava was only listening very carefully to him, and she would shake her head up and down after each Sean’s sentence. While Ava was staring at Sean’s eyes, she would change her gesture and her face expression according to Will’s story. Watching them experiencing empathy was like looking at a mirror for me because they would reflect each other’s feelings. Ava did not interrupt while Sean was telling his story, but after Sean was done with his story, Ava responded back. “I can totally feel you, Sean. In fact, while you were telling your story, I had a feeling that was like listening to my own life’s story from another point of view. I am an only child as well. “, Ava responded back to Sean after he was finished with his story. I could feel the power of empathy, and see how empathy can connect two people to each other.

Body language is the first connection that happens before even we start speaking. It was the Christmas of 2017, and I was walking home after my work was over. I saw a man sitting on the floor next to a shopping cart. He was wearing a shirt that was a small, but on him, it was like his big brother’s shirt hanging loose. It was cold outside, and he had wrapped his arms tightly around his knees to make himself warmer. By only looking at him, I could feel he is hungry and cold. We have all had the experience of watching homeless people in the streets, and understanding their feelings by looking at them is a great example of how body language can communicate feelings.

Emotion plays a significant role in empathy. Hearing and understanding the hidden person of the heart is the key to empathy. Human beings’ feeling is like an onion that has several layers. In order to understand one’s feelings, we need to step into their shoes and live from their perspective of life. For example, when my stepsister, Amy, was 3 years old, and my cousin, Evan, was 1 year old, I witnessed a fascinated response from Amy to Evan. While Evan was crying, Amy went to him, and she tried to comfort him with her favorite cat toy. In fact, Amy tried to put herself in his shoes to understand his feelings in that particular moment. Empathy can inspire a revolution, and lead to innovation. One of the most empathic people I have ever seen is Patricia Moore. In the mid-1970s, Patricia was 26-years old, and she was the only female product designer working at Raymond Loewy design office in New York. “Couldn’t we design the refrigerator door so that someone with arthritis would find it easy to open?”, Patricia said in one of their planning meetings. “Pattie, we don’t design for those people!”, one of her more senior colleagues replied. Patricia was so pissed of her colleague’s response, that she decided to do something that changed the whole design industry forever. She hired a makeup artist to make herself look like an eighty-five years-old woman. She put on glasses that would make her vision blurry, plugged up her ears that would decrease her hearing ability, and put on uneven shoes to make walking hard for herself, that made her use a stick.

Believe it or not, she forced herself to go through different challenges of an elderly woman for three years, from 1979 to 1982. During these years, she traveled to 116 cities in both the U. S. and Canada, and she did all the daily activities of an elderly woman. She tried to put herself in elderly’s people’s shoes to understand their challenges and their feelings. She was one of the true leaders in the movement of the Universal Design, an approach that makes products to be designed for use of the widest range of consumers possible (Innovation Hall of Fame article that was published on Rochester Institute of Technology website).

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