I don’t want to piss you off by telling you we have an anger issue. But it’s true — 84% of people surveyed in a recent poll by NPR said Americans are angrier today compared with a generation ago.
And we do live in a complex world, which gets more chaotic all the time. We rely on mental shortcuts, called heuristics, to cope and make progress simultaneously. Unfortunately, the worst of those shortcuts are cognitive biases, which fuel not only anger, but also create a seemingly impossible divide.
It’s said that holding onto anger is like drinking poison and wishing it would kill the object of your ire. Luckily, there is an antidote to that toxicity.
It’s empathy. And it’s not the bitter pill you might think it is.
The case for kindness
Empathetic people get a bum rap. They’re seen as overly emotional, soft, and an easy target. All that good will toward others seems like a fast track to feeling used up and burnt out.
Research, however, proves the opposite. Empathy is not a soft skill that only few possess, but something we’re all wired for. Mutual aid is a critical component of survival, as long as it’s not so extreme that it causes your own distress.
What you learned at summer camp was right: a little kumbaya goes a long way, both personally and professionally. It fosters a spirit of cooperation, collaboration and creativity, which leads to more influence, impact and growth.
Seeing the good in empathy pays off; learning how to cultivate it is the path.
Empathy for the devil
Connecting through caring isn’t as hard as it may seem. Jamil Zaki, author of The War for Kindness: Building Empathy in a Fractured World, relates that feeling for someone (or empathic concern), is different from emotional empathy, where you feel as someone else does.
This allows you to develop compassion for someone diametrically opposed to your belief system, or care for someone else without totally falling apart yourself.
Empathy may be in inherent in all of us, but you’ve got to use it or lose it, as Zaki points out:
Through the right practices, such as compassion meditation, diverse friendships and even fiction reading, we can grow our empathy on purpose. Empathy is something like a muscle: left unused, it atrophies, put to work, it grows.
In other words, it’s better to put yourself in the place of others, then to put others in their place. See what I did there?
Cultivating Empathy in an Unjust World (Stanford News)