The older I get, the easier it is for me to be empathetic. It wasn’t always that way. For more years than I’d like to admit, I was stubborn and bull-headed. For the longest time, it was “my way or the highway!” I still have flashes of that attitude. It doesn’t hurt to stand your ground from time to time. However, today I also strive to be more empathetic when needed.
The dictionary offers a number of definitions for empathy but the following pretty well sums up the concept: “The ability to put one’s self into the psychological frame of reference or point of view of another, to feel what another feels.”
Now, in my view, that doesn’t mean that I have to agree with someone else’s point of view. It simply means that I try to understand how they feel about something. It goes a long way in helping me better communicate with that person.
I’m also a people watcher. I’ve found that it’s a tremendous way of learning people skills and discovering how we all differ in our thinking. I’m fortunate in having many opportunities to people watch. I spend a lot of time in airports in the midst of thousands of people from different locations. I do a lot of work in many large cities populated with people from locations far and wide.
At a recent leadership seminar, I was sitting at a table during a break having a Coke with 8 to 10 participants. Somehow the conversation turned to voting, and it didn’t take long for things to get heated. Half the group felt it was a privilege and responsibility to vote and that every citizen should do so at every opportunity … local, state and federal.
The other half of the group felt voting was a choice, and it came with more negatives than positives. I must admit that I’ve always leaned toward the philosophy of the first group. However, it was interesting to listen to, and empathize, with those sharing the alternative philosophy.
Here are a couple of reasons they shared:
- “I don’t vote because registering places my name on the jury duty list, and I can’t afford to take time off work for jury duty at $12 a day! I have a family to feed.”
- “I don’t vote because I don’t approve of or agree with either candidate. If you had a choice of voting for a proven thief or a proven liar … which would you choose if you didn’t want either leading your city, state or country? Would you vote for one of those two simply because you had the privilege of voting.”
- “Why is it we have 50 choices for Miss America and only two, neither of which I approve of, for the highest office on earth—President of the U.S.?”
- “Why should I take the time off work to vote when the last three elections have proven that my vote meant nothing. The election was decided by those in power—not the popular vote.”
- “We can put a man on the moon and transplant a living heart, but we can’t properly count votes for something as critical as President of the U.S.!”
Listening to these comments and watching the sincerity with which they were shared, I suddenly had a greater respect for empathy. I didn’t have to agree with any one of those positions, but I could understand where they were coming from.
Last year more people voted for American Idol than they did for President of the United States! Maybe it’s time for those in power to be more empathetic and strive to address some of these issues that currently prevent so many from exercising this critical right to vote.
Instead, we see them on TV screaming at each other and calling each other liars. Maybe this would be a good time for some empathy.
By the way, as for those on break during the seminar … neither side budged an inch!