Understanding someone’s suffering is the best gift you can give another person. Understanding is love’s other name. If you don’t understand, you can’t love.
-Thich Nhat Hanh
I love the quote above. I believe that Thich Nhat Hanh is equating understanding and love to empathy. When a person is in a state of empathy, they actually feel the emotions, problems and perspectives of another being. One study I read broke down the division of thought into a chart stating that most humans spend 60% of the time in self-directed thoughts, 30% in relational thinking, and only 10% of the time in empathetic thinking. Self-directed thoughts are those that only concern the individual. Relational thoughts involve others, but the individual having the thought is only concerned with how it is affecting one’s self.
If most humans are only capable of 10% of empathetic thinking, and that empathy has to be split between everyone we know, we are probably wasting a lot of time taking things personally. In most cases people are not trying to be intentionally hurtful to one another…they are just too busy thinking about themselves to be concerned with how their actions are affecting someone else. If this is true then we should feel free to have fun and be ourselves…no need to be embarrassed…nobody is probably paying attention anyway!
If we can expand our empathy directed thinking beyond 10% just think what an affect this could have on our relationships. There would be less misunderstanding, personalizing, and arguments. This is a process and not one that happens on its own. To be more empathetic takes self-reflection, and self-realization. So at the end of each day if we take at least 10 minutes to reflect on all interactions, we would be able to recognize when we could have treated someone more empathetically. Eventually, our capacity for love and understanding will increase.
It truly is also taking the time to think before we act. When we do this, we can think about others feelings before our own. Being empathetic can be improved by being intentional in our thinking and in our actions.
Today, be intentional and practice empathy with others around you.