We need to dispel the myth that empathy is “walking in someone else’s shoes.” Rather than walking in your shoes, I need to learn how to listen to the story you tell about what it’s like in your shoes and believe you when it doesn’t match my experiences.
Brené Brown, Atlas of the Heart
Apparently, humans have perfected the skill of mind reading.
The evidence is all over social media.
We can find out what an individual’s true motives are, not by reading their explanation of their own motives. Rather, it is some observer who has discerned those motives telepathically.
This observer has watched an interview, read a tweet, or heard a news account, and over vast distances their powerful brains have detected the deepest thoughts and inclinations of a stranger.
And the information detected in this manner is more credible than the individual’s own explanation.
This is demonstrated by the confidence these modern soothsayers display in their accounts of what the strangers really were thinking.
Sometimes, this insight is discerned through a low-grade empathy: “I know what I would be thinking in that situation.”
But this is just projection: attributing to others our own thoughts, feelings, and motives.
Sometimes, this simplistic “empathy” is accidentally accurate.
We humans share many experiences and perceptions.
But these are not always exactly identical.
Some people enjoy cold weather, others hate it.
Some people like the taste of sauerkraut, others can’t stand it.
Some people seek public attention, others prefer to stay anonymous.
We can try to imagine what we might think if we were in someone else’s shoes based on our own experiences, and this is good — if we remember that it is just a guess.
Contrary to appearances, mind reading is not a thing — not even between spouses.
The true authority of what is going on in someone’s head is the actual owner of that head.
Even if they don’t have total self-awareness, they have a better grasp of their mental state than we do from the outside.
If you find yourself arguing with someone about what they are thinking, stop yourself — right in the middle of a sentence.
Then apologize: “I’m sorry. There for a second I had the delusion that I had the power to read your mind.”
And our goal should not be simply to understand what others are thinking but also to understand what they are feeling.
Empathy means being able to feel with others.
The only way we can do that properly is to allow them to tell their stories and to listen carefully.
Genuine empathy is powerful.
Remember, with great power comes great responsibility.
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