Empathy refers to the ability to imagine the scenario and react compassionately to what someone else might be going through. While most may assume this is a choice, the more I study empathy the more I’ve come to understand that true empathy is just as much a learned skill as it is an instinct. In 2011 Cambridge University professor Simon Baron-Cohen released a book titled, The Science of Evil, where he presented the argument that the erosion of empathy was the leading cause of an increase of evil in society.
Today, in 2021, mental health counselors break empathy into three categories. Cognitive empathy is the capacity to place yourself in another person’s shoes. Affective empathy or emotional empathy applies when you emotionally share the feelings another person is experiencing. Finally, compassionate empathy incorporates both cognitive and affective empathy by using these two responses to make you want to take action and relieve the other person of their suffering.
“Empathy has no script. There is no right way or no wrong way to do it. It’s simply listening, holding space, withholding judgment, emotionally connecting, and communicating that incredibly healing message of ‘you’re not alone.'”Brene Brown
We are Naturally Drawn to Empathy
If you pause to think about the people in your life who you go to in a crisis they are likely those who are most empathetic. They won’t simply offer thoughts and prayers, they will shed tears with you. In Luke 7:36-50, we read the story of the sinful woman who approaches Jesus while he’s a guest at the home of a Pharisee named Simon. She washed Jesus’ feet with her tears and hair.
What would cause someone to humble themselves in such a way? I believe it was the understanding that the person she approached saw her as valuable and was willing to listen. That is the practice of empathy.
How To Spot People Who Do Not Have Empathy
- Blaming others for mistakes
- Saying others are overly sensitive: We all do this sometimes, but people who do not empathize do it far more of the time in more situations.
- Refusing to hear other’s points of view
- Argumentative attitude
- Seems to struggle to understand where other people are coming from
- Can’t handle emotional situations
- Surprisingly emotional reactions: Typically manifests as strong reactions of frustration or even anger, rooted in their incomprehension of and impatience with other people’s feelings
- Difficulty maintaining relationships
When we receive a diagnosis of cancer we seek the comfort of empathy. When we have a miscarriage, lose a job, break a bone, or simply need a listening ear we seek the comfort of an empathetic friend. This is why it’s deeply disturbing that a growing subsection of the conservative church is claiming that empathy is sinful.
Not only is this the MOST unbiblical statement I’ve ever read in recent days, but it’s also yet another example of a desperate attempt to rationalize power over people rather than love. It’s shameful and has dire consequences. People will seek empathic ears. Whether they are in the body of Christ or the world.
Suicide is a Leading Cause of Death in the United States
- According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) WISQARS Leading Causes of Death Reports, in 2019:
- Suicide was the tenth leading cause of death overall in the United States, claiming the lives of over 47,500 people.
- Suicide was the second leading cause of death among individuals between the ages of 10 and 34, and the fourth leading cause of death among individuals between the ages of 35 and 44.
- There were nearly two and a half times as many suicides (47,511) in the United States as there were homicides (19,141)
“Shame is an epidemic in our culture. And to get out from underneath it, to find our way back to each other, we have to understand how it affects us and how it affects the way we’re parenting, the way we’re working, the way we’re looking at each other….If we’re going to find our way back to each other, we have to understand and know empathy, because empathy’s the antidote to shame.” Brene Brown
We need mentors to help us sharpen our skills of empathy. We need mentors who will model empathy, will redirect our investments when we reflect inward for too long and will ask us to consider different perspectives. We need mentors who will push us to take courageous steps to move toward compassionate empathy with the understanding the time will come that we will need someone to act on our behalf. We need mentors who will be examples of empathy so those outside the walls of the Church will know that just like the woman in Luke 7, Jesus loves them too.
Are You Ready to Invest in the Learning More About Mentoring?
As Christ’s ambassadors (2 Corinthians 5:20), we’re all called to “make disciples of all nations” wherever we live. God invites us to partner with him and live on mission every day, even in the mundane moments of life. We do this when we love people as Jesus taught the disciples to do, without stipulations.
Embracing Holy Interruptions: How Jesus Used Mundane Moments to Love People Deeply is a six-week Bible study that teaches people how to develop a disciple-making movement.
This is not a step-by-step instruction manual.
Jesus modeled using mundane moments to love people, build tension, and point them to God in a way that caused many of them to step from a curiosity about God to a fully surrendered faith. We can adapt his methods and learn from the examples in the Gospels today. This study aims to help people keep their eyes on Jesus and improve their inductive Bible reading skills while also learning to love their neighbors to the best of their ability.
This 6-week study is available in both print and Kindle formats.