What does it mean?
To successfully empathize with someone, you must follow three steps. Anything short of following all three steps is not fully empathizing.
Step 1: You must “forget” your own experiences. This is hard because you are you and your experiences are very solidified in your memory. Instead, this step is about accepting the idea that everyone is limited. Just because you know something doesn’t mean everyone else does. “Forgetting” your own experiences means limiting yourself to someone else’s knowledge, even if you know more than them.
Step 2: You must take on their experiences. This can also be difficult since you can only take on another person’s experiences if you know about their experiences. We are all limited and you cannot know someone’s entire life without asking them questions and listening. The better you know a person, the more accurately you can empathize. To empathize also means you must accept that their condition isn’t just a movie for you to watch, it’s their everyday. Although you may empathize for just a few moments, they are living in their life all the time.
Step 3: You must accept that everyone is the hero in their own story. We often create stories to explain our experience and every story comes with a perspective. When empathizing, you must take on another person’s perspective but keep in mind that they are playing the part of the “good guy.” Nobody truly believes themselves to be in the wrong, despite anyone else’s perspective.
Empathize with the Universe
This might seem like a silly idea since the universe is not a person like me or you. Empathizing with the universe doesn’t mean you see the world from another person’s perspective, it means you see yourself from an outside perspective. In the “eyes of the universe” you are absolutely nothing; just like the rest of us!
You are a single part of a global population of over 7 billion other humans. Empathizing with the universe is understanding that there is no grander story that involves you and only you because you aren’t more important than anyone else.
Understanding your true place in the universe can be humbling and might even make you feel worthless, but that’s when you need to take another step back. You are a part of the universe that has grown conscious of itself and at this moment, you are seeing the world through the perspective of nothing at all. Your brain is so powerful that it can create a character that does not exist and then gain that character’s perspective to see yourself. That’s pretty impressive, if you ask me.
Empathize with Others
You are a human, like everyone else but also different than everyone else. The way you see the world is a direct result of your experiences and what you’ve learned. At the beginning of our lives, we have no experiences and have learned nothing. In a way, the consciousness of every newborn baby is exactly the same as yours was before you started living your life.
If, at one point, you were the same as everyone else on the planet, then they share similarities with you. When you remove your experiences and the lessons you’ve learned, you’re left with nothing but human tendencies. We all share the same tendencies because we are all the same species. “There is no difference between you and me that lies beyond our history.”
When you empathize with others, you are focusing directly on why they are doing anything. In a conversation, every word they choose to say and every topic they choose to bring up is done so by a conscious decision. When you empathize, you aren’t just listening to their words or watching their actions, you are seeing their intentions.
Empathize with Yourself
You are different than you were a few years ago. You probably look different and you definitely think differently. If you really look at the details, you’re currently different from the person you were even yesterday. You are mostly the same but time has passed and you have changed.
Empathizing with yourself allows you to separate from the different versions of yourself in order to see yourself from a limited perspective. When you beat yourself up over a mistake you made in your past, just remember that Past You didn’t know that it was going to be a mistake! The mistake helped you to learn a lesson but you couldn’t have learned it without messing up.
You are changing with each passing moment and each new lesson you learn. You will be wiser tomorrow than you are today. Remember not to be too hard on this version of you in the future. As long as you are trying your best with what you have, that’s all you can expect from yourself.