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 Blooming Stars

Empathic Relating

            Empathic relating comes from empathic living. Empathy means putting oneself in the other person’s place in every way possible: in thought feeling, disposition, attitude, pain, and joy. A few years ago when our Sidhashram was being constructed in Munnar there were many persons from different castes working in close cooperation. They were generally cordial. I was not personally aware of each one’s caste. One day Rekha (not her real name), one of the workers, came to me crying. She stated one of the carpenters close to her work area, Rajan (not his real name), cited an old proverb that her as it put her caste in a bad light.

            He cited the proverb in answer to a question regarding his availability or predictability in the next 24 hours. He would only know his situation for sure only after day-break, next morning. The Malayalam proverb stereotyped a caste in the proverb to denote unpredictabilityWhen I confronted Rajan with the derogatory proverb, his answer was that he did not mean to hurt anyone, and Rekha should not feel hurt as it is after all a commonly used proverb in the culture. To conscientize him, I asked him if he would like the proverb if he were in the place of Rekha. Then he got the clear message. It is high time that we clean our language of any proverb or saying that put any race, caste, sex, or religion in a prejudiced and bad light.

            In empathic living as well as in empathic relating one undergoes what the other person undergoes short of doing what the other person does. For instance, empathy does not mean that I cry with the other person while I am in empathy with the pain of the other person. That might be construed as over-identification or over-involvement that is not really helpful to the other person. But an empathic person will help the sufferer to go through the pain by reflecting genuine understanding. Sometimes the only thing an empathic person needs to do is to listen to another person attentively so the other person can vent one’s feelings and obtain release from the grip of oppressive pain and hurt. Empathic listening with undivided attention in an understanding and accepting climate without evaluating and judging the other person is a precious gift that we can give to another person.

            This gift can temporarily or permanently help free the other person from the emotional block that one is stuck in. Actress Jiah Khan in despair was driven to suicide most probably because she perceived the world as a hostile place. Perhaps she felt that she would not be able to trust anyone, and receive the empathic understanding she was looking for. Empathic relating certainly is a necessary ingredient in a helping and healing relationship such as psychotherapy. We need not agree with a person’s interpretation of things, but we can certainly empathize with a person, which (empathizing) might help one look at one’s interpretation in a new or different light that is helpful. We also need to keep in mind that when many persons say that we do not understand them they mean we do not agree with them. Clearly understanding is not agreeing. In any case, empathic relating enhances our own personality. It is essential for Unity of Humanity.

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