How Do You See People? Developing Empathy

Look around. Notice the first stranger you see. What do you think about them? What jumps to mind? What assumptions do you make? Now imagine that person as part of your family; a son or daughter, brother or sister, maybe one of your parents. 

Can you switch perspectives? How does doing that change your initial feelings about that person?

Now take a look at yourself from the eyes of a stranger. What assumptions might they be making about you?  Maybe they think they can guess your political opinions, religion, work ethic, honesty level, etc. just by glancing at you.  

How would they arrive at these assumptions? How do you arrive at yours?

We don’t know the strangers we judge, but I wonder if our initial opinion of them tends to be more on the negative side, especially if they are unlike us in any way.  I’m guessing that if these people were in our circle of friends and family, we would most likely show more empathy than judgement towards them.  But towards the stranger?  I suspect the opposite is often true.

But what if we approached everyone from the “family and friends” perspective? 

Would we help them when they need it, at some consequence to ourselves? Would we tolerate them when they say or do things we don’t agree with? Would we try to support them in their struggles?

How do we view people outside of our friends and family? The answer makes all the difference in how we live our lives and interact in society.  And right now, as a society, we too often lack the empathy and willingness to help those outside of our circle, especially if it costs us something.

The saddest aspect of this is that there really is nobody outside of our circle. All of our webs are interconnected.

You might know someone who refers to everybody as “brother”.  Lots of people do it. But have you ever taken a second to think about what that phrase implies and how it calls us to behave? What if we truly viewed each other as global brothers and sisters?  How might that view change our attitudes and actions?

Try it.  For one week, consciously try viewing everybody you encounter as you would one of your family or friends.  See if it makes any difference in your attitude toward others or how you treat them.  If there are positive results, note them and adopt them permanently.

Let’s revive empathy, understanding and compassion by making a simple yet profound shift in the way we see people.

by Todd Fulginiti

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16 thoughts on “How Do You See People? Developing Empathy

  1. Good points, Todd! I had to laugh though, because I just do that naturally, and it drives people crazy. If I was an animal, I’d be a Golden Retriever, complete with drooling and hair loss. 🙂 It enables strangers to tell me their life stories, regardless of age. It enables me to feel comfortable anywhere. The drawback though (and there always will be one), is that this is a real problem during job interviews. I am too casual, and this is to my detriment every time something sober and formal is called for, except for funerals, though to be honest (always) I have only been to 2 funerals, and they were for people I was closest to so I just wasn’t feeling it those days. The main thing with what you were saying there, seems to be to urge people to consider letting down their judgements, assumptions and guards with each other, and see how that goes. It’s a great idea, let’s do this!

    1. That’s a great idea Vic! I taught in an elementary school for 25 years, and I don’t remember seeing anything official like that, but it did seem like teachers stressed it in their everyday interactions/conflict mediation with the kids.

      1. It’s a method that works in school, in everyday life, and in business. The best salespeople are those who do that.

  2. Very good points, though I think the unusual among us (like me), are prone to be less negative in our pre-judgments. I hate when people make assumptions about me based on my tattoos and hair color, so I give folks a chance to show their true colors. Wish everyone were that way and used your suggested frame of mind.
    Alas, people judge and stereotype… I blame parents though. The minute something judgmental comes out of my son’s mouth, it’s immediately addressed. Don’t think that’s true in many homes. Can’t expect schools to teach morals. It’s not the schools job to do what is a parenting job. That’s just my opinion though, worth the paper it’s written on 😉

  3. Nurses are pretty good about this – but we’re tough on each other – that is, until you’ve proven you’re a competent nurse and can be trusted to cover someone else’s patient for their lunch break. Oh, and with people outside of work, we’re curious about scars, limps, etc…

    1. Haha! My daughter is a first year nurse and, from what I’ve heard, she would totally agree with you! 😎

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