With all the upsetting and often exhausting news stories dominating the media in the last year, within the midst of a global pandemic, stock market crashes and political unrest, the need and the want to be empathetic - bolstered by a collective encouragement that shows itself in many forms - is something that many feels should be on the forefront of our minds. No matter what is going on in our own lives, no matter how difficult or cumbersome it may seem, somebody out there has it worse than you. Think logically, put some perspective on things. Focus that self-pity elsewhere.
We all can be empathetic. Empathy, the ability to share and understand the feelings, emotions and situations of others, is a trait that is something we can all benefit from. The ability to put yourself in the position of somebody else's standpoint serves as a generous and pleasant character trait, selflessness, and the ability to put somebody else's needs or scenario before your own. It's a trait that you'll often boast about in job interviews, that you are able to 'stand in other people's shoes', to see where they are coming from and shows that you are not totally selfish or too self-centred. At least, that's what we would like to think.
Relationship experts will say that without empathy, your relationship sails on stormy seas. You can't understand why your girlfriend got so mad at you about missing her special event? Then empathy is something you have to work on, dear friend. And so on - it seems that each and every human interaction whether that be in business, friendships or relationships relies on the help of empathy.
Our brains are wired to be empathetic, too. Put your right index finger above your ear a few centimetres and move it back a notch - lying underneath your scalp in that area contains your right temporoparietal junction (RTJ), the area of the brain associated with empathy and selflessness. It's a pretty cool thing - for instance. Within this same study, it shows that if the area is stimulated with electricity, the person can be more effective at seeing things from the perspective of others. So we all have the ability to be empathetic, both socially and biologically. It is up to us to choose, ultimately, when and how to go about being empathetic.
What I wonder is, looking back on this year with all its turbulence and troubles, whether humans will slowly become more and more exhausted from empathy, what we could call an 'empathetic burnout'. How would that work out down the line? Would we all become much more stoic and flat, eventually becoming so immune to bad news that we turn on empathy, resulting in zoned-out, cruel, unsympathetic humans? It's a worrying thought.
So how can we avoid this? I'd be interested to hear from people whether their reaction to certain difficult events spurns an empathetic, almost helpless reaction, or whether you feel rallied and fired-up to help. I'm really interested in this subject, so I'd be curious to hear how you deal with empathetic burnout.