Empathy 2.0 – Being Selfish and Otherful

Empathy is in…

“the action of understanding, being aware of, being sensitive to, and vicariously experiencing the feelings, thoughts, and experience of another of either the past or present without having the feelings, thoughts, and experience fully communicated in an objectively”

From design thinking evangelists, professional negotiators, to modern day hippies who long for a better united world, everyone loves to talk about empathy. And it has to be a good thing, right?

This is what usually happens when something cool becomes a fad, because people start agreeing with it without asking why.

Why should we be empathic? Or a even better question,

So what if we are empathic?

The usual trap for these types of mindsets is we simply use the counter argument to justify our reasoning – e.g., certainly not being empathic is bad right? Sure, that’s probably true but it does not say why being empathic is good though.

For example, what’s the difference between an empathic person and a psychic (or a palm reader, a professional broker, a second hand car salesman, etc)? What’s the big deal if we can ‘read’ or understand people and completely get what they are going through experientially and emotionally? What’s the point of doing it in the first place and what do we do after we get to that state?

Empathy is a justified form of hypocrisy if we don’t care about the individual in the first place. Empathy is just a tool. It does not get us anywhere if we don’t know where to go in the first place.

So why should we care about others?

Because the world will be a better place if we care about others. And a better world is good for ourselves too. Therefore it’s awesome to care about ourselves and others.

They don’t have to be mutually exclusive.

Therefore, I don’t mean we should all go Buddha or on an ill-informed Jihad mission, nor should we go into the controversial (yet interesting) debate on altruistic behaviour through evolutionary psychology. Rather, it all starts with ourselves, our selfish self.

Selfish is not really a bad word if you break it down. It just says you are just a little bit (..ish) of your ‘self’ (therefore ‘self’-‘ish’), which I must say, it’s natural. We have to anchor things somewhere. Why not us?

But the keyword is ‘ish’…. just a tiny bit…

To grow and become better, one needs to think of ourselves a tiny bit (the self’ish’) in order to really care for others (the other’ful’). As my favourite basketball coach Popovich has once said, those players who are ‘over themselves’ are best at making the team better. This is why it’s great fun working with people who are comfortable and secure with themselves. And a great team makes each of us better.

Let’s all become selfish and otherful at the same time!

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