I don’t know what Kurt Cobain understood by “empathy” when he signed off his last note with “peace love Empathy”, and it’s too late to ask. But in the almost twenty years since, the importance of empathy, it’s place in our evolution and central role in human happiness, is becoming increasingly clear. It has gone from an airy-fairy and slightly suspect notion to being well-researched and of primary importance.
I’ve been reading “Brain Rules For Baby – How To Raise a Smart And Happy Child From Zero To Five”, by Dr John Medina. His number-one rule for growing baby’s brain during pregnancy? Empathy practised between the parents. And his Brain Rules for after baby is born include breastfeeding, no TV for two years, and Empathy.
Happy parents = happy baby = smart baby.
Empathy as defined by “growing and robust research literature” means:
Affect Detection – see the emotion in the other
Imaginative transposition – know how they feel
Boundary Formation – know it’s not you
Medina advises making empathy a reflex in your primary relationship – making a habit of describing the emotional changes you think you see, and making a guess at where they came from . It only takes a few seconds. Then carry on as you wish. You will wish to be kinder than you might otherwise have been. Empathy reduces hostility, on both sides of the equation.
“Along with the ability to regulate emotions, the ability to perceive the needs of another person and respond with empathy plays a huge role in your…social competence…Empathy makes good friends. To have empathy, you…must cultivate the ability to peer inside the psychological interior of someone else, accurately comprehend that persons behavioural reward and punishment systems, then respond with kindness and understanding. The outward push of empathy helps cement people to each other, providing long term stability in their interactions.” (My italics)
“Brain rules For Baby – How To Raise a Smart And Happy Child From Zero To Five”
Dr John Medina
Empathy might be a newish idea, but it has always been present in the human brain – we can know that because other mammals display empathy. I wonder what else is waiting to be found once someone thinks to look for it?