There is an element of empathy that most people overlook: it changes you more than the person you are trying to change.
When we choose to listen, understand, and feel, our initial response to a situation is much different than the one we end with. Have you ever had one of those "If I had only known..." type of moments? I have them more often than I'd care to admit - especially with my children.
Just the other day, I cut off my oldest child, mid-sentence, because I thought he was about to ask for something. All the ques were there: the timing, his mannerisms, and style of speech. He wasn't asking for anything. He just wanted to tell me that he loved me and appreciated all that I do for him.
I know, I know... It was a "Worse Dad Ever!" moment. But if you are honest, you've had a worse ______ ever moment as well. I'm not the only one, dammit - LOL!
If I had only known why he wanted my attention, I would have greeted him with gentleness instead of a stiff arm - ooof!
Instead of justifying my response like I usually do, 'I responded like I did because ya'll are always asking for stuff!' I chose to reflect on what triggered my impatience. This is what I found: I was quick-tempered with him because we were in the process of replacing our garage door, a water heater, and our kitchen faucet right before Christmas during a pandemic.
Needless to say, I don't do well when I see money leaving the bank account. I was stressed and frustrated about the "It's always something." phase we were going through - not him or a potential request.
Stress is an adversary of empathy. It isn't easy to be empathetic when we are mired in the complexities of life: emotionally, relationally, financially, and mentally. So, I have to ask:
Do you even have the mental space to empathize with anyone right now?
Are you well enough to listen, understand, and feel so that you can respond compassionately to others?
If you answered "No" to these questions, know that it's okay not to be okay. You can't heal what you are unwilling to reveal about yourself. That said, if you want to embrace the wondrous life-giving power of empathy, you must seek first to be whole. Otherwise, you will not have the capacity to another's bucket with patience, kindness, gentleness, and peace.
Empathy does not spring out of an empty well. If you are empty, running on fumes, your journey to becoming more empathetic starts where you are - not where they are.
It might be time to focus on you!