Empathy

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.

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EQ IQ or Both!!

I read a story about a person having a meal in a restaurant. He saw two poor kids hanging around outside the restaurant. He called them inside and requested them to sit with him for some food. They had their food and then the person asked for his bill. He received the bill. He was shocked to see the bill amount Zero! On the bill it was written that our billing system is not equipped to create a bill for humanity! The owner of the restaurant had seen the event and this was his reaction!

Wow! What a gesture! Not from one person but from two persons. The guest wanted to pay for the food eaten by the two kids also but the owner went one step further. How did this happen? Why did this happen? This brings me back to my favourite subject, human nature. How does a human react to a situation? Why different people react differently to same situation? How does our mind or nature mold since our birth? There are various factors that surround you when you grow. We have no control over which family we are born into. Family DNA helps to mold but we see enough examples of siblings who are totally opposite. How much is family DNA important?

Is it the circumstances through which we make our journey? Is it some special incident in your life that makes you the way you are? It could be series of events and incidents that can mold you. I know of siblings with very similar paths in their career. They ended up working as Directors with large organizations. Enough international travel and stay, sufficient exposure to foreign culture, high education, probably equally high IQ’s! But the difference in two siblings in certain aspects of life is unbelievable. Does EQ (Emotional quotient) come into play? Possibly a person’s behaviour Q= (IQ+EQ)/2! But is the equation correct? Is it really divided by two? What is important IQ or EQ? What is more important and by how much? My experience tells me that weightage of IQ to EQ is 3 to 7!

In the passage of our lives, we see so many different things. There can be difference in opinion about what is good and what is bad or what is correct. But according to me the story of two kids, I narrated above, can be only be classified as good, there are no two opinions about it. When I compare two siblings, I am talking about such “absolute” good things and not the disputable ones. In such absolute incidents their behavior can be diametrically opposite. All of us see various things in life but how much open are we to absorb the events that we see or observe. Are we the real sponge material? Spongy persons absorb as many things as possible from life experiences and their “computer system” retrieves right things at the right time. Non spongy persons are not open minded and though everybody sees the same things, these people absorb only the things that they want. Spongy people will store the data about things that are opposite to their thought process too. They just keep on absorbing irrespective of the fact that they may not agree on some issues. So when a situation arises, where they need to change their thinking, they can do it. The data is already stored with them. Their mind will analyze situation, applying two diametrically opposite thoughts and may be change 100% or 70% or 30% in their thinking, depending on requirement of the situation. But non spongy persons will never change their mind as they have not stored data for opposite thought process. Can these people said to be adamant? आडमुठा in Marathi. Some may claim that they “stick” to their principles but life is all about being adaptable.

Coming to IQ/EQ discussion, consider Sachin Tendulkar& Vinod Kambli. They started their cricketing careers at the same time. Their initial milestones were also reached at the same time. In fact in the beginning Vinod was supposed to be a bit ahead of Sachin! After 4/ 5 years of international career things started changing. I am sure both of them had very similar cricketing IQ but end results say that their EQ was vastly different. Vinod was nowhere near Sachin in EQ. Vinod found it very difficult to handle career hiccups. Sachin also had some hiccups but with his superior EQ he managed to overcome the difficulties and rest as they say is history! Why Sachin’s EQ was better than Vinod’s? Is it family background? Is the overall atmosphere in his life? What was it that made Sachin reach the pinnacle of cricketing history? There are many things that formulate a persona, ultimate result of life can be measured in terms of IQ & EQ. So the IQ+EQ theory holds good!

Take another case of brilliant scientists Edison and Tesla. Both had very similar IQ but were so much different in their EQ! Edison had a bad streak in him that caused him to make many attempts to destroy Tesla’s career. But what was the end result, Edison became a moneyed man whereas Tesla did not make much progress on this front. Both had many inventions in their names, but Tesla gained the popularity as a better person. What is the definition of a successful person? Is it the one who makes lot of money? Or is it the one who gets better name.

In case of Sachin and Edison, one with very good EQ and the other with not so good EQ both had commercial success. In case of Sachin he earned a great name too! People respect him for his humility. Edison did not earn a name as a good person. But if we go back to siblings discussed above, their case is similar to Sachin and Edison! That brings me back to same question has DNA no effect on final outcome! Friends decide your take!