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Our Need for Empathy

Empathy is a respectful understanding of another’s experience.” – Marshall B. Rosenberg

We all have a deep need for empathy, to have understanding and respect.  It is vital to our survival individually and collectively.  Without empathy, we would languish and die.  In order to address our physical, emotional, social, and spiritual needs, we need to know what they are, consciously or unconsciously.  Empathy expands our experience and consciousness and thus brings us closer to connecting to what is vitally important to us, and what could nurture us.  Without empathy, our awareness is limited and the choices we make are less likely to serve us in a broadly fulfilling way.

Our quality of life is enriched by the empathy we receive from others.  We connect to our own wholeness, and can expand beyond our sense of limitation.  Remember a time when someone really listened to you without trying to mold you in any direction.  You may remember a shift to a fuller sense of yourself and the world as you connected deeply to your own experience.

When I really listen to someone deeply with empathy, no matter how they are expressing, I can experience a sense of beauty, like watching a flower blossom in my presence.  My world is enriched by the connection and the diversity.  It can be like listening to music with my whole body.  I allow their experience to wash over me with joy

This is not always easy, nor do I always have the willingness to do this.  And it is a deep practice, a form of meditation.  What gets in the way of completely being with someone in this way is my own pain which indicates to me that I have a need that is unmet.  If I address my own need in the moment with an internal or expressed acknowledgment or something else life-serving, I might find the joy in the dance again.  This is the dance of empathy and honesty, the dance of Nonviolent Communication.

    "When I can really hear someone, it puts me in touch with them;  It enriches my life.  It is through hearing people that I have learned all that I know about individuals, about personality, about interpersonal relationships.  There is another peculiar satisfaction in hearing someone:  It is like listening to the music of the spheres, because beyond the immediate message of the person, no matter what that might be, there is the universal.  Hidden in all the personal communications which I really hear there seem to be orderly psychological laws, aspects of the same order we find in the universe as a whole.  So there is both the satisfaction of hearing this person and also the satisfaction of feeling one's self in touch with what is universally true.
     When I say that I enjoy hearing someone, I mean that I hear the words, the thoughts, the feeling tones, the personal meaning, even the meaning that is below the conscious intent of the speaker."  Carl Rogers


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