As Obama once said: “Empathy is the power that will change the world“.
Empathy has the power to transform any situation- from million seemingly small day to day conflicts and misunderstandings to large political impasses.
Making a simple step into the other person’s shoes (experience) has the power to transform tension into sweet heartfelt cooperation.
Here below I share one of those daily magical moments.
The power of one Empathic guess:
I find my seat on a plane Toulouse → Amsterdam. On my left sits a big guy, about 40 years old. He is moving restlessly, placing his elbow on the armrest between us, releasing an audible breath. He takes his phone, looking at it shortly, and puts it down again in what seems to me an angry fashion.
I am nervous. While keeping my head looking straight forward, my eyes are secretly searching if there is any free seat I can spot so that I can move. And there is none. Realizing I am staying, my body becomes more alert- Will he explode? Will he become violent?
He moves again, takes out some papers he had in his bag- he reads through them in what seems like a very chaotic manner, and puts it down while releasing another audible breath out- I am sure it could be heard 3 rows in front us.
The man looks quickly to the back of the plane, then back to the front and holds the seat in front of him with his 2 angry hands. He breathes out again, this time I can even smell his breath. I am thinking- WHAT’S…GOING…ON?
I feel fear, which pushes me beyond my own discomfort and makes me gather the courage to do something. I look at the man and ask: “Are you stressed”?
He looks directly into my eyes, smiles and says: “I am afraid of flying. After we take off it will get better but the departure is tough.”
My whole body releases the tension like a warm fountain melting into the chair. I smile back: “Yes, I can imagine, I have quite some friends who have a similar fear, and you don’t choose it, right, it is just in your body?” He smiles again: “Yeh I can’t do much about it and I fly all over the place. Sometimes it’s hard how people react.”
I am sitting in silence for some seconds to still digest the shift in my body’s tension.
His breath accelerates again, he holds the front seat, looks quickly to the back of the plane, and I feel a tremendous amount of sweetness to this big man whose body is terrified due to seemingly nothing.
I ask: “Is there anything I can do that can help you? I know my ex-girlfriend liked to hold my hand when taking off and landing, I am happy to hold your hand if this is helpful.” He says: “No, it’s ok… but yes, speaking helps.”
So we chat. Until the plane took off. Then I calmly fell asleep.
When I understand the truth where a person’s reaction comes from, the situation de-escalates immediately, my inner experience transforms, and hearts become open to cooperate.
Often, I don’t get to this ‘truth’ in 1 Empathic guess and rather it asks some longer time before meeting it: It asks time when attempting to connect with children, with my partner, my mother, with politicians… It takes time, and the truth is always there waiting to be met.
With hope for drops of Empathy that change worlds,