by Jandie Lane
The Big Divide
Cultural or religious divides, Millennials versus Boomers, Mac versus PC, the earth is flat, or the earth is round… Our world is more chaotic and polarized than ever before. Bridging our differences seems insurmountable. How does one find peace and the ability to love thy neighbor when we have opposing signs in our yards and social media is an echo chamber, amplifying our biggest fears and frustrations with each other?
What Divides Us
It isn’t really Trump that divides us, the generation gap or the wealth gap (although there are real issues for us to work through)… it is our gap in empathy for each other that truly divides us. We like to believe we are caring, empathetic people and at many levels, we are. Why else would programs like Go-Fund-Me be successful? We all have the capacity for empathy. Neuroscientists’ discovery of mirror neurons has proven that our brains are hard wired for empathy. So, where do we go wrong? Technology ironically connects and yet further separates us from each other and what it means to be human.
We are a bit lazy, or to be fair, we are all very busy. We need more and more reminders to step away from technology and live in the present with our family, friends and nature — to be human and connect like humans. When we take the time to get to know each other on a deeper level, empathize more with each other’s hopes and challenges, we are more tolerant and get along much better… and as a result, we are much happier and productive people.
I have a dear friend, Kate. She is a horrible driver; a positive, fun and caring person, but a horrible driver. When someone cuts me off in traffic, my first reaction is annoyance; “How can you be so stupid, self-centered, etc.?”. However, if that were my friend, Kate driving, I would shake my head, smile and give her plenty of room. I have empathy for Kate; I know her motivations aren’t evil. Her driving behavior could continue to annoy me, but I value her as a person. I can separate her behavior from her value as a person. So, while driving, if I pretend everyone is Kate – I’m a much happier, more empathetic person.
Love the One You Hate
I want to believe we have the ability to love anyone. Love, like empathy, is a choice. The common understanding of empathy is more like sympathy. We feel sympathy for people who have lost a loved one or wrecked their car. But empathy requires more effort.
The definition of empathy from dictionary.com:
Empathy – Noun | em-puh-thee|: the psychological identification with or vicarious experiencing of the feelings, thoughts, or attitudes of another.
Rarely do we risk psychologically identifying with those who annoy us.
True empathy requires self-awareness; an awareness of our own biases and world views and how we, ourselves, might annoy others. It also requires a willingness and even a desire, to be personally changed by listening and observing another. To listen to other points of view with an open mind and willingness to consider changing our own views. It is challenging, but easier to do this with people who are most like us, those we grew up with, those we already have much in common with. It is much more difficult to have this level of openness with those who are on opposite sides of issues, behave in ways we don’t understand, or those who we perceive to hate us for our beliefs or the color of our skin.
Very Different Ways of Looking at the World
Not everyone looks at a situation the same as you. Much of my work for the past 20+ years has been studying human behavior, traveling the world interviewing people in their homes, where they shop, work and play. Outwardly people seem very different, but we are much more similar when the layers of pretense peel away.
There are universal truths around the world, no matter who you speak with. Underneath it all, most everyone wants to give and receive love, to feel safe, to laugh and play, and we all want happiness and security for those we love.
I’ve learned that no matter the situation, the type of person, or what part of the world they live in; when I listen, truly listen to someone, being fully present, looking into their eyes, If I allow myself to feel the depth of their fears, hopes and dreams… even if I don’t like their outward behavior, I can feel love for them. Not romantic love, but agape; the universal type of love. The sort of love that makes you want to give someone a hug. This kind of empathy can build bridges and help us work and play better together.
Jandie Lane is an expert in human understanding and the power of mindfulness, she is a consultant, leadership coach, workshop facilitator, keynote speaker, life coach and certified Enneagram trainer. Her mission is to help people lead happier, more successful lives by having greater understanding and empathy for themselves and others.
She is leading a workshop on Empathy, Self-awareness & Other-Awareness through the Enneagram.
For more information on the workshop: