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Showing Empathy: You don't need a degree to care

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DivineAmnesia

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To show empathy is to identify with another's feelings. It is to emotionally put yourself in the place of another. The ability to empathize is directly dependent on your ability to feel your own feelings and identify them.

If you have never felt a certain feeling, it will be hard for you to understand how another person is feeling. This holds equally true for pleasure and pain. If, for example, you have never put your hand in a flame, you will not know the pain of fire. If you have not experienced sexual passion, you will not understand its power. Similarly, if you have never felt rebellious or defiant, you will not understand those feelings. Reading about a feeling and intellectually knowing about it is very different than actually experiencing it for yourself.

Among those with an equal level of innate emotional intelligence, the person who has actually experienced the widest range and variety of feelings -- the great depths of depression and the heights of fulfillment, for example, -- is the one who is most able to empathize with the greatest number of people from all walks of life. On the other hand, when we say that someone "can't relate" to other people, it is likely because they haven't experienced, acknowledged or accepted many feelings of their own.

Once you have felt discriminated against, for example, it is much easier to relate with someone else who has been discriminated against. Our innate emotional intelligence gives us the ability to quickly recall those instances and form associations when we encounter discrimination again. We then can use the "reliving" of those emotions to guide our thinking and actions. This is one of the ways nature slowly evolves towards a higher level of survival. In other words, over time, awareness of our own feelings may lead us to treat others in a more pro-survival way.

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