As we begin 2014, you’ve likely set goals that you’d like to achieve this year. That’s great – it shows that you’re a forward-looking person ready to make improvements and take on new challenges. As a Certified Empowerment Coach, I like to suggest, however, perhaps less thought of way to improve your life – developing your HEP skills. They can both improve your life as well as the life of others. They could even help change the world…here’s why.
Develop Your HEP Skills To Boost Your Quality of Life
If you follow the news, you may have heard the word “empathy” a lot lately. It seems to be the new “buzz” word amongst social activists, teachers, scientists, and some politicians – anyone advocating that we practice more the age-old Native American concept of “walk a mile in another man’s moccasins” to create a better world. These are people who are HEP’s – highly empathic persons. They frequently practice the often neglected human skill of empathy – understanding the feelings, behavior, perspectives of people different from you.
But HEP’s aren’t a special breed of people who have this skill – they likely just practice it more. Researchers, psychologists, say that all humans are naturally empathic – our brains are hard-wired for social cooperation and getting/giving mutual aid. When we lived in more edgy survival modes back in our cave dwelling pasts, we likely practiced our empathy skills more as we clearly understood that our clan-member’s suffering could soon also be our own.
As modern people evolved, and we became more and more self-sufficient, our empathy skills seemed to get pushed to the back burner. We had modern technology to help us and we lost a lot of our empathic connections to our fellow humans. Yet, re-connecting your empathy wires can really add some positive qualities to your life.
Honing your empathy skills not only fosters understanding of people, cultures, different from yourself, but fosters your own personal growth as a human being. It can literally open up more of the world to you by allowing you to feel more connected to others. Think how many people you may know, just in your daily life that you may have shut out, or held at arm’s length, viewing them as a 2-dimensional character much different from you. Your preconceived notions, lack of knowledge and understanding of their race, occupation, religion, politics, social practices, has kept you from knowing many, possibly very interesting, people. It’s also stunted your growth as a person.
Developing your empathy skills can help banish loneliness by creating more friendships as well as strengthening relationships with family members, friends, and co-workers. So, I’d like to give you a little assignment at the top of 2014 using 4 ways to develop your HEP skills.
1. Use Your Curiosity. Extending a friendly, respectful curiosity to another person outside your usual social circle, a stranger even, can gain you a new understanding about them and maybe even a new friend. Of course, you should always practice common sense and safety in engaging strangers, but at least once a week, try to hone your empathy skills by striking up a meaningful conversation with someone you don’t know. What did you learn from them?
2. Put Aside Prejudice. We all grew up with prejudices passed down from parents or other relatives, friends, etc. To develop your empathy skills, try to engage someone whom you’ve formerly thought of in a prejudiced way – a person of another race, religion, social standing, etc. See if you can put your prejudices aside by finding common ground between you – what do you have in common with this person? Finding commonalities helps dismantle prejudice.
3. Experience Someone Else’s Life. Volunteer at shelters which house homeless people, or volunteer at a religious organization not your own, in a hospital, veterans association, a village in another country, etc. Experiencing how other people live, the daily challenges they face, can help develop your empathy skills as well as gain greater appreciation for your own life.
4. Foster Social Change. Join, or at least attend some meetings of, groups posed for social change for different groups of people. For example, if you don’t know much about the issues facing gay people, disabled persons, veterans, seniors, Native Americans, sick children, etc., learn more about their particular issues and the problems they face that aren’t your own.
Curious how empathic you are? Try the Empathy Quiz (see link at bottom of article) and see what it tells you.
In decades past, the Boomers were frequently referred to as the “Me Generation” as social researchers and psychologists claimed that the best way to know and relate to others was to first know, and focus on perfecting yourself. Although knowing and becoming your personal best is valuable, spending too much time in the land of “Me” can create a lack of empathy for others. So, in 2014, make a point of working towards becoming more of a HEP and see how your world opens up and your quality of life improve.
Dale Brown, B.S., M.A., C.E.C.
Certified Empowerment Coach
Six Habits of Highly Empathic People: http://greatergood.berkeley.edu/article/item/six_habits_of_highly_empathic_people1
QUIZ: Are You Empathetic? http://www.gotoquiz.com/are_you_empathetic