The Express Train to Cultivating Empathy and Emotional Intelligence
February 7, 2023
5 min read
In Praise of Reading Literature, Fiction, Biography, Autobiography and History
If this headline captured your interest enough to check out this article, good news! You are not a psychopath. Psychopaths suffer from having no empathy. They do not sympathize with the feelings of others. And psychopaths aren’t aware that they have no empathy. So by showing your interest in cultivating empathy you have firmly planted your flag in the non-psychopath camp. That reassurance is your reward for succumbing to the click-bait.
The inner life of any great thing will be incomprehensible to me until I develop and deepen an inner life of my own.
Parker J. Palmer
I love to read. And I like to partake in the meta act of reflecting on why I love reading. One of the benefits I have come to notice is how reading has changed the way I see and relate to others. And to myself. While I wan’t looking, I became more empathic.
Our ability to meaningfully relate to others, and to ourselves, is a super power skill that we do well to cultivate. Empathy and emotional intelligence are keys to deepening relationships and providing even the most cursory encounters with an invitation to connection.
Reading helps us rehearse, practice and develop empathy and emotional intelligence. Good writing get us inside other’s heads and hearts and gives us words to articulate our emotional weather.
Reading is like listening. Practice listening. It is our duty to listen deeply and attentively in order to gain understanding about where others are coming from. In a conversation, try to avoid precious listening time being distracted with formulating your response. We have two ears and one mouth and that is a good rule of thumb usage ratio.
Reading is an accelerant. It moves us past our own experiences, both real and imaginary, and allows us to learn from others.
Reading accelerates and broadens our emotional intelligence and our ability to empathize. These skills help us build better relationships and reduce social frictions and misunderstandings. These are also fundamental skills in negotiations. You need to understand the needs and wants of the other side. When it comes down to it, every encounter is a negotiation
Emotional Intelligence is the capability to recognize our own, and other people’s emotions. This is subtle and harder than it sounds in a concise definition.
Meditation is just sitting and breathing and taking stock of our internal state by allowing ourselves to get quiet enough to listen. Having some vocabulary to apply to what we hear while meditating is invaluable.
We use emotional information to guide our thinking and behavior. We need to be able to manage and adjust our emotions to adapt in different settings. In short we need to be appropriately social to get on in the world and achieve our goals.
Empathy is the ability to understand and share the feelings of others. Empathy is our ability to project into the situations of others and really experience their trials and tribulations as our own.
Fiction and non-fiction are both valuable in our endeavor to become more emotionally aware and empathic.
In fiction and great literature the author is a guide into the psyche and feelings of the characters and their situations and plights. We are led and immersed.
Reading biography and history can be more matter of fact in its attention to the internal realities of the subject persons. It is easy to read and gloss over the trials and tribulations of the subject and those in their circle. We read of how they were ostracized and criticized and ignored or ridiculed; had diseases and illness; poverty and financial hardship.
We read these things and put them into the category of the stuff they had to overcome and because we know the end of the story: that they triumphed either in life or after with fame and glory. We can tend to focus on the ultimate triumph and diminish the immediate impact of the things that they must have felt. Nobody knows the outcome of their story while they are deep in the living of it.
Make time for reading. Enjoy it. Be ware of the emotional landscapes unfolding. Pick some of your reading with this in mind. Read in order to have good sentences in your ears. Peace.
We can cultivate relationships like we would a garden. Here is a lovely quote from Thich Nhat Hanh
When you plant lettuce, if it does not grow well, you don’t blame the lettuce. You look for reasons it is not doing well. It may need fertilizer, or more water, or less sun. You never blame the lettuce. Yet if we have problems with our friends or family, we blame the other person. But if we know how to take care of them, they will grow well, like the lettuce. Blaming has no positive effect at all, nor does trying to persuade using reason and argument. That is my experience. No blame, no reasoning, no argument, just understanding. If you understand, and you show that you understand, you can love, and the situation will change
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