7 Habits of Highly Empathic People

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Empathy is a key component of humane education, and something our society is increasingly growing to understand as essential to our well-being and the well-being of the world. Studies show that we're innately wired to be empathetic, and that, for example, empathy can play a role in reducing racism. As we at IHE have talked about frequently (such as here, here and here), empathy is also something that can -- and must -- be cultivated and nurtured.

Roman Krznaric, author, and founding faculty member of The School of Life, wrote a post for the Greater Good Science Center outlining 6 habits of highly empathic people that we each can cultivate in ourselves.

Here are his 6 habits:

1. Talk with strangers.

"Curiosity expands our empathy when we talk to people outside our usual social circle, encountering lives and worldviews very different from our own."

2. Challenge prejudices and discover commonalities.

"HEPs [Highly Empathic People] challenge their own preconceptions and prejudices by searching for what they share with people rather than what divides them."

3. Try another person's life.

"HEPs expand their empathy by gaining direct experience of other people’s lives, putting into practice the Native American proverb, 'Walk a mile in another man’s moccasins before you criticize him.'"

4. Listen hard -- and open up.

"There are two traits required for being an empathic conversationalist. One is to master the art of radical listening. ... The second trait is to make ourselves vulnerable. Removing our masks and revealing our feelings to someone is vital for creating a strong empathic bond. Empathy is a two-way street that, at its best, is built upon mutual understanding—an exchange of our most important beliefs and experiences."

5. Inspire mass action and social change.

"HEPs understand that empathy can also be a mass phenomenon that brings about fundamental social change." 

6. Develop an ambitious imagination.

"We also need to empathize with people whose beliefs we don’t share or who may be 'enemies' in some way. If you are a campaigner on global warming, for instance, it may be worth trying to step into the shoes of oil company executives—understanding their thinking and motivations—if you want to devise effective strategies to shift them towards developing renewable energy. ... Empathizing with adversaries is also a route to social tolerance."

Read the complete post.

But there's at least one vital empathic habit missing from Krznaric's list, so we've added it:

7. Extend your empathic lens to nonhuman animals and the earth.

We get so wrapped up in our own human problems that we forget there's a whole world of tens of millions of species, and billions of nonhuman individuals with their own needs, desires, and interests separate from our own, and a natural world on which we rely for our very existence. We also forget (or choose to ignore) just how deeply our choices affect other beings and the planet. Krznaric limits his habits of empathy to humans, but it's vital for our own health and well-being that we extend our empathic lens to include other animals and the earth.

Whenever we have the power to prevent or reduce suffering, cruelty, injustice, or destruction for people, animals, and/or the earth, we must act to do so. Otherwise, we can never fully reach our highest potential as human (and empathic) beings.

~ Marsha

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9 comment for "7 Habits of Highly Empathic People"

  1. Hi
    Most of the bitterness and arguments are avoided if we just try to understand opposite person's thinking and reason behind it 7 habits of Highly emphatic people post is i am going to share on my twitter account, good writing and in depth understanding of matter,
    keep it up

  2. An interesting perspective and I can really see how encouraging these habits in children can improve their relationships and hence initiate changes in society.

    Also I always knew if felt right talking to strangers – I will continue!

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