Dictionary meaning of Empathy is the ability to understand and share the feelings of another. This is one of the most important facets of human personality. I am always amazed how human personality develops. A human may be born with good physique, good brains; these traits can come from ones gene pool; these facets can be further improved by consistent efforts. But what about empathy? Is a person born with empathy? Is empathy a physical trait? No it is definitely not. Empathy is considered a motivating factor for unselfish, prosocial behavior, whereas a lack of empathy is related to antisocial behavior.
Human intelligence is the sum total of IQ & EQ. Empathy is a key element of Emotional Intelligence, the link between self and others, because it is how we as individuals understand what others are experiencing as if we were feeling it ourselves. This is best described by the proverb “Never criticize a person unless you have walked in his shoes for one mile.”
At what stage in life a human being becomes an empathizer? Is it seen only in humans or also in animals? I feel that it is definitely seen in the pets like dogs and cats. Of the two, dogs are better empathizers as they express themselves more openly than cats. I have read about dolphins, chimpanzees also showing this trait. These things indicate that empathy is a trait related to brain activity.
Empathy is a skill that is gradually developed throughout life, and which improves, the more contact we have with the person with whom one empathizes. Accordingly, any knowledge gained about the emotions of the other, must be revisable in light of further information. Empathizers will find it easier to take the perspective of another person when they have experienced a similar situation. When I share my personal experiences below, I again wonder if what I am writing is correct.
I want to share a couple of examples of my own and a business story which give different facets of empathy.
This is about 13/14 years back. I was in the US with my son Sachin, my grandson, Suyash, was maybe around 4 yrs old. We went his school to see a performance by the kids for Halloween. We were requested go and wait in a hall. Kids were coming in parade like formation and were having great fun. Almost all the kids had come out but we could not see our grandson Suyash. He came in the end, pushing a child who was in a wheelchair. After the program I asked the teacher, “How do you decide who will push the chair? Do you request the children to take turns?” She said, “Yes, we do it that way, but Suyash insists that he wants to push the wheelchair every time!” She said, “Suyash is different child and has of great empathy!”
Recently at home my daughter Priya and our granddaughter Rhea were with us. Our daughter came back from the clinic. She was mentally very down with some professional event and she had a telephonic conversation with my wife Jaya before she came home. Rhea asked Jaya, “Is mumma unwell?” Jaya said “No, she is ok!” Rhea is 3 ½ years old. When Priya came home and Rhea told us, “See mumma is well, she is not crying!” Jaya suggested to Priya to have some food. Rhea went and sat next to Priya and fed her all the meal. All the time telling her, “Eat your food, you will feel well!” She made sure that Priya finished all the food. How do I explain empathy in a 3 1/2 year old child?
Now I am not able to understand both the kids, all of ¾ years of age and so much empathy within them! They have not seen the world, they have not seen the bad side of the world. How could they empathize? I am back to my question at what stage the empathy start? How does it kickstart? Are all ¾ old kids like this? It cannot be so as each individual is a different person. Is it then genetic? Does it come down to you when you are born as hereditary facet of your personality?
Now I am sharing one experience from business domain. There was a heading somewhere.
Mercedes-Benz, the car manufacturer, is no longer interested in achieving customer satisfaction.
That does not mean that customer experience is not important to Mercedes. Quite the opposite. It means that customer experience is so important that satisfaction is not enough. Instead, the company wants its customers to feel delighted by their experience with Mercedes.
The company’s president and CEO believe that engaging Mercedes employees is key to achieving that. For example, a recent company poll found that 70% of employees had never driven a Mercedes. They are now being given the opportunity to do so, so that they can better empathise with customers, and therefore engage with them more effectively.
I had a similar discussion years back when first “Indian” car was being developed. The key people involved in this development were all using Fiat & Ambassador cars in those days. I asked some one senior in the organization, when all the key persons were accustomed to quality of Fiat & Ambassador cars, how will they create a car to compete with Maruti Zen, the best car of those times. We all know the end result.
In our office we make software products. I tell all my colleagues we are NOT developing software but we are creating a solution for other people to help them to handle their own processes in correct and a very easy way. Unless we achieve that we are not going to sell our products. We must walk in our Customers shoes for one mile to understand their needs.
Will the world be a better place if more people are able to empathize? Is there a threshold at which people start to empathize? Can there be formal training given to people to learn to empathize? Friends come with your views! Let’s make this world even a better place.