Having surrounded myself more and more the past two years with people from all walks of life who want to do good, help others and the environment in all shapes and forms be it through their corporate careers, exercise and play, art and music, various healing practices or simply, just by conversing and by how they are as people I’ve noticed something: compassion and empathy are most absolutely 100% not the same.
While compassion for me is a willingness and urge to do good in whatever manner the actor deems best, empathy on the other hand, is the ability to fully put yourself in another person’s shoes. Both are important pieces to the function of doing good but I’ve found that many times, the scale shifts toward more people focusing on the compassion portion. Idealistic in nature, the mere willingness to do something is of course crucial in terms of sparking an interest and fueling one’s motivation with an ever-burning flame but without the ability to fully see things from a different perspective, how are you really able to efficiently do said good work?
If compassion is the goal, empathy is the tool to get you there.
Perhaps this is why veganism and vegetarianism have snowballed into such trends. Deep down, our human nature makes us all care. Yet sometimes, because our lives are quite busy to say the least, we get confused in how to navigate the practical side of caring. At their core and when done right, veganism and vegetarianism essentially lay out a method for caring. I mean this in absolutely no negative way nor do infer that people following this movement are the only ones to care (or, are automatically empathetic because of their food choices). There are countless ways of doing good and following a diet that urges more caring and conscious behavior is just one of them. Just as there are omnivores out there who fall into each category of the empathy spectrum, the same holds true for vegans and vegetarians.
However, I do rest my case in that I think that in general many people are not empathetic enough. And why are people not empathetic enough? They don’t practice introspection. And why do people not practice introspection? The ego gets in the way.
Empathy is born in introspection
To fully be able to put yourself in someone else’s shoes you must first know the size and perimeter of your own footwear. How else would you be able to step out of them? Through introspection we are better able to understand our own thoughts and behavior in relation to that of the external world and our interactions with other people. I see it as a check point (one that for me sometimes pops up a bit too often than necessary). With self-checks come humbleness and self-critique. Two items that I personally see as building blocks of emotional intelligence (EQ).
I also think that some people may exercise this muscle a bit more than others and maybe, just maybe that can be blamed on the ego getting in the way (oh how it constantly gets black sheeped!). The EQ gym is a no-ego zone. You really wouldn’t be able to do proper work there with it lurking about. Now, of course, telling it to step away is usually more easily said than done, but with that paves the way to empathy. And ultimately, to finding a way to fulfil that which your compassion compass is guiding you to do.
*The picture is of one of the wonderful souls I had the pleasure of meeting at Black Rock City last year. More portraits from my Humans of Burning Man series can be found on my Instagram @jogyll.