How to Develop Empathy
We can start by being kind, just being a kind person. It doesn’t matter so much whether or not you can feel love for someone you don’t know or have a strong sense of compassion for them right away.
We can start just by being kind, or being a good person, so to speak. If we can try to be that way in our everyday life, being more respectful and having this sense of kindness toward ourselves and others, then we can begin to habituate our mind to appreciating things more than complaining about things.
When we practice having a simple sense of appreciation, that’s going to help us bring our mind around toward empathy. Then very naturally we find ourselves trying to see the struggle and pain of others. Even if you don’t see their pain, you will still have some sense of respect, appreciation and kindness toward them.
So empathy starts with developing a habit of being kind to yourself and others.
Being kind is the key to empathy.
The Key to Empathy: A Contemplation on Being Kind
1. Take a mindful moment. What is kindness? Remember a time when you had a kind thought about someone: “He is so considerate,” or “She really took the time to listen.” Or think of a moment when you did something kind, maybe just smiling or saying a friendly hello. Connect with that feeling in your body and mind.
2. What does kindness feel like? Pay attention to your breath. Is your body relaxed? Does kindness feel natural? Does it feel forced? If you’re trying too hard to “be kind” or “be good,” pause for a moment and take a deep breath. It’s important to be kind to yourself too.
3. When you have connected with the feeling of kindness, take a moment to appreciate its qualities. What do you like about being treated with kindness and friendliness? What do you like about being kind?
Just by doing this simple exercise now and then, you can discover a lot about your own way of being kind. As you become more aware of your heart of kindness, little by little you may find yourself being kind to people for no reason than you enjoy doing it. You may find it gets easier to feel empathy for others as well.