I planned to write about creativity, but empathy, a disposition that supports creativity, offered a more urgent topic. Masks are required again indoors where I live in Los Angeles County. We all hoped that this phase of the pandemic was behind us. Yet, here we are, facing another wave of restrictions. Masking the face makes it easier for people to ignore each other or block out another person’s feelings. Paradoxically, this is the exact same time that we need empathy the most.
On the nuanced spectrum of feelings towards each other, empathy falls somewhere between sympathy (recognizing someone’s pain) and compassion (acting to alleviate pain and suffering). Empathy takes recognition of pain one step further into understanding and, at some level, sharing the burden.
Empathy signals that we care about what someone is feeling. That we understand and can share their feelings. When we give someone a hug who is stuck, defeated, anxious, lonely, or tired, in essence we are saying, “I feel you, I see you, I can relate.”
Hugs are one way to communicate empathy. Others are heart emojis and a kind comment, a hand on the shoulder, or simply listening. Giving a person space to express what they feel and showing them with body language that we are attentive to what they are feeling communicates empathy. What’s key is that it’s a choice. We can choose to shut down and hide behind the mask, or reach out and walk in the other person’s shoes.
That’s empathy in a nutshell.