Friday, January 25, 2013

Today's empathy, both the good and the bad

Today I tipped the gas station attendant who filled my car's tank. I gave him $2, he gave me a smile and a thank you. I'm not normally a tipper so this was unusual for me.

I wasn't thinking about doing it beforehand, again, this is an example of going with my gut feelings at the moment. I started with the thought,'it's really cold out there' and the next thought was 'this guy's job sucks, he's out in this horrible weather' and then 'i'd like to buy him a cup of coffee' led to pulling out my wallet to give him the tip.

Later in the day, a coworker was sharing her troubles and I fell into trap #1 (comparing her problems with other people's) and trap #3 (trying to solve her problem) immediately. (Link to the traps article) I tried to come back to her later with an 'I'm sorry, that really sucks' comment but honestly I really think it was too little too late. It's hard to catch these things before they happen, but I'm going to keep trying.


What I see from the above stories (and something I've noticed about myself in general) is that how easy I have empathy to others seems to be related to how well I know them. That is, if I don't have a relationship with the person to RISK, it's easier for me to put myself out there. However, if I do have a relationship with them, well, then I'm scared, my defenses come up, and I shut down empathy.

What about you? Have you tried to build empathy, what has been your experience?
Do you tip frequently?



Wire said...

I think we have more to risk by opening ourselves up to people we see regularly. If we do something weird or offensive or make ourselves look bad then we have to deal with that when we see that co-worker or friend or family member every time we see them. But that random service employee? Are we gonna see them again? If we do, will they remember us (or us them)? Low chance, so we feel more comfortable taking risks opening ourselves up.

(Maybe this is all paranoid and wrong but I'm sure it's how we typically approach these situations.)

But I think this is OK. I think that what you are doing is PRACTICING. You are stretching your empathy muscles in the safe environment of dealing with strangers. Then as you get more comfortable with opening yourself up, as you see more and more how it leads to positive outcomes, then maybe you'll start bringing these practices into your workplace and personal life.


Wire said...

From that article about traps:

"Fortunately for us, awareness and a little practice goes a long way to improving empathy."