Empathy, Happiness and Hope

Dennis Perman_Message of the Week

Dear Doctor:

And so, we say “fare thee well” to 2020, historic in its own right for the unprecedented challenges it offered – and yet, with new beginnings there is an atmosphere of hope, and two recent articles gave voice to this phenomenon.

The first comes from the Washington Post, co-authored by Jamil Zaki, associate professor of psychology at Stanford, who wrote “The War for Kindness: Building Empathy in a Fractured World.”

Empathy, the ability to understand and share another’s feelings, takes two forms — emotional empathy, vicariously experiencing another’s emotions; and cognitive empathy, trying to comprehend someone’s perspective. Since they use different brain functions, they’re unrelated but both essential.

Zaki states, “Empathy does not require agreement or liking. You can understand others without condoning their beliefs or compromising your own.” This is a critical distinction, as the reason most rebel against empathy is that they fear being made wrong or sacrificing organizing principles upon which their worldview depends.

But that is not necessary. Simply learning to listen and be part of the conversation is a bold step in the direction of generating harmonious co-existence. Sociologists call this “deep canvassing,” more persuasive than spirited debate – rather than attacking the other party with facts and aggression, ask about their experiences and share stories. It’s more likely to uncover commonality, or at least clarity.

He says, “Empathy is not weakness. Listening with genuine curiosity can disarm people and open them to seeing things differently.”

The second article, a study from the “Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences,” identifies four steps to increase happiness. Researcher Cortland Dahl from the University of Wisconsin-Madison’s Center for Healthy Minds says, “It’s a more hopeful view… that you can take active steps that improve well-being… in the way that you might take steps to improve physical health.”

The first step is to “cultivate awareness – and meta-awareness.” This means to pay attention to your situation – and, to the process of paying attention to your situation. This is the essence of mindfulness, and grounds you in your current reality and beyond.

The second step is to “cultivate connection.” Building togetherness and compassion between yourself and those around you lowers stress and enhances social positivity and overall optimism.

The third step is to “practice insight.” Looking within at your thoughts and emotions gives shape to your sense of self.

And finally, “connect with your purpose.” Your core values and your identity form the support structure for your actions and behaviors – if what you do does not reflect who you really are, that’s a clue.

Dear friend Dr. Michael Posner of Huntington, NY shared this profound story with me, where Satguru is approached by a student who asked, “What is the key to happiness?” Satguru replied, “Don’t argue with fools.” The student retorted, “I disagree!” And Satguru responded, “You’re absolutely right.”

And thus, we begin anew, with an opportunity to decide in advance what we will trade this year in for. We cannot control what happens, but we can be secure in ourselves, and control how we show up. Through empathy, happiness and hope, just maybe we can move forward with peace, love and joy.

Dennis Perman DC, for The Masters Circle Global

PS As our communities go through changes, remain alert. Lead. Work together. Be loving. Do good.

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