Importance of Empathy
We have a beautiful thing here! The Type2Diabetes.com community is growing. As our community grows and more experience fills our reservoir of information, we hope to strengthen and unify through a community's greatest tool; empathy.
We experience a barrage of information and opinions as we try to learn more about diabetes and how to best manage it; they don't all agree with one another either. As a community, we do not need to agree, but we do need to support each other, which is not always easy. Here are some tools to help for constructive communication.
What is empathy?
Merriam-Webster defines ‘empathy’ as: "The action of understanding, being aware of, being sensitive to, and vicariously experiencing the feelings, thoughts, and experience of another of either the past or present without having the feelings, thoughts, and experience fully communicated in an objectively explicit manner."1
Empathy is often associated with sympathy, however, there is a distinct difference. Sympathy is the ability to take part in a person’s emotions, usually by feeling sorrow for their misfortune or happiness for their success. Empathy, on the other hand, is the ability to understand a person’s experience as it were your own. It’s like the difference between seeing a person's shoes and walking a mile them.
Who does empathy involve?
All of us should do our best to practice empathy. Regardless of the power dynamic of the discussion, it’s always a constructive space when both parties are not just listening to each other, but trying to empathize with one another. To find solutions that appease diverse perspectives, every perspective needs to be understood, represented, and validated.
How do we practice empathy?
Empathy takes a lot of focus and time. To practice empathy we must focus, not on what to say next, but what the person we’re talking to is trying to express. Empathy takes time; asking questions, listening and introspection are not quick processes.
Introspection in the process of analyzing one’s own thoughts, feelings, and actions, is also essential to being able to empathize. Some ways I practice introspection is by identifying emotion and asking a few questions:
- Who caused this emotion?
- Why did their actions cause this emotion?
- What was my reaction to this emotion?
- When did I feel my emotions change?
- Where do I go from here?
The more we understand our own perspective and how our own experience influences it, the more we can look for the same detail in another person. Empathy begins with learning to understand ourselves.
When should we be empathic?
In every interaction between people, there are different perspectives at work. No two people share the same life experiences, therefore, we all perceive the world differently. It’s always important, respectful, and constructive to practice empathy and intentionally understand the other person’s experience; not just sympathize with it.
Why is empathy is the answer with diabetes?
People with diabetes, manage their diabetes in many different ways. Anyone could gather this fact from this community. It's because we all receive different information about the disease and how to best manage it. Just as our perspectives of diabetes are different, so are the physiologies within our body.
Diabetes is an incredibly complex disease because of our digestive system, endocrine system, and dietary needs. These layers of complexity create difficulty in finding a “one-size fits all” management; not to mention compounding conditions that further complicate management.
The take away
We all come to this community with different support, conditions, and ideas, but with the same intention: managing diabetes better. Empathy is a crucial tool for understanding and respecting other people in the community. With a brief idea of how to empathize, we can all work towards making this community stronger as it continues to grow and develop.
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