Empathy is defined as the experience of understanding another person’s condition from their perspective. You place yourself in their shoes and feel what they are feeling.
Empathy is known to increase prosocial (helping) behaviors.
We have heard the word, we have learned what the word means and we have spoken the word in sentences but how many of us have actually lived the word? Empathy is more than feeling sorry for someone or giving someone some money so that they can buy some food. Empathy is a feeling that strikes the core of your being and changes you from the inside. It is that powerful feeling of meeting someone who is troubled or down and their plight hits you so hard that you want to help change their world and your world at the same time. We are all God’s creatures and we are supposed to help each other no matter of color, religion, sex, or nationality. Empathy is the ability to see through those little differences and be able to see what is truly important – the person.
Working in a hospital, I have seen the the spectrum of society.
Rich, poor, tall, short, old, young, it does not matter because when someone is in the hospital, they are the same. They are a human being worried about their well being or the well being of a loved one. I become empathetic to their worries, their fears and concerns. Why? Because I know that I would want someone to be able to understand my concerns if I was the patient. Many times you hear people speak of “bedside” manners and how doctors and nurses occasionally forget them. What causes this memory lapse? Sometimes, it is the hours, the pressure, the stress or other factors that we may not understand but that is when the patient also needs to be empathetic to their doctors. Empathy is a two way street.
I believe that empathy should be taught in schools or at least discussed.
It is important to learn about science, mathematics, literature but it is also incredibly important to learn about people. I am not talking about historical figures, but the people that we see day to day. These people have the ability to teach you about life and in return about yourself. I have always said that when I was in medical school, I had wished there was a course on empathy. I truly believe that we should be taught how to sit back, listen and feel what the person is talking about. I was once asked how to describe my four years at medical school and the best analogy I could think of was ” it is like drinking water from a fire hydrant for four years”. It is hectic, fast paced, very little sleep and incredibly stressful. You are taught to treat the condition and learn about the body but you are not taught to treat the person and feel their concerns. I was incredibly blessed to have a family that taught me to listen and care about others but even I have slipped and perhaps wasn’t as empathetic as I should have been to my patient. It is not because I do not care, it is because I am a human and I occasionally slip as well.
The Coat Drive
The Coat Drive is such a wonderful way of giving back to the people in Detroit. I have helped patients who have come into the hospital in the winter with no winter coats or gloves. I have seen them shivering in the waiting room, trying to get warm and to get healthy. I am blessed that I can give my children a roof over their head, plenty of food and clothing. My children are in need of nothing and I consider myself fortunate to be able to be able to provide for them but seeing my patients going without hits me to the core of my being. I can only imagine what it must be like to send your children to school without the proper coat to keep them warm and dry. The Ask Dr. Nandi Coat Drive was created because I am empathetic to their needs. The smiles I have seen when a child is given a new winter coat and gloves causes my heart to burst with happiness. It is a beautiful feeling to see a child smile and hug their new coat and know that they will be warm for the winter.
Empathy is the new literacy, essential for us to communicate, collaborate and lead.
Empathy also gives us the will and tools to be changemakers for the good. It helps to motivate us to imagine and build something better together. If we want a society of changemakers – where problems no longer outrun solutions, then we have to make empathy a priority because changemaking is basically empathy in action!