Empathy: The Secret to Self-Understanding

April 16, 2017 by Charlie Hedges − 0 Comments

“The more you know about another person’s story, the less possible it is to see that person as your enemy.” Parker Palmer

I want to add to the quote, “The more empathy you have for another person, the more understanding you have of yourself!” Huh???


I recently discovered a hugely helpful German word, einfühlung. It means “in-feeling” or “feeling into,” which may indeed by the basis of our concept of empathy. Empathy is indeed “feeling into” another person, as well as “feeling into” ourselves.

An old German professor, Theodor Lipp, reasoned that the German word “einfühlung explained the way people see themselves in objects, such as art. And if we see ourselves in art,” Lipp continued, “perhaps we could also see ourselves in other people.”

Empathy may be the most selfishly unselfish word in the dictionary. In one sense, when you are genuinely empathetic to the story of another person you are truly seeing them unselfishly and totally engaged in what is important to them. But at the same time, you take from that person values and ideas that give you insight into your own psyche.

The Power of Empathy

Empathy may be the most important of all emotional endeavours. The empathetic process initiates insight into the core of another person, giving you a greater understanding of their actions and attitudes toward all sorts of life circumstances. And with that empathetic understanding comes compassion, insight and love. And then you gain the reciprocal enlightened understanding of yourself as you agree or disagree. At the very least you learn, about another person and about yourself.

“They” Are Often Me

For example, I am a member of what is called a 12-Step Group in which many of our attendees have been deeply involved in heavy drugs, lost families, living under bridges, eating out of restaurant dumpsters and evading the police. It would be easy to judge these people negatively, but once I hear their story I always walk away enlightened, forgiving, with a strong desire to help.

It is also their story that reminds me, that could be me. It is a powerful reminder of that I am capable doing just about anything, save for the grace God and the power of friends.

Other people teach me so much. It is one of my primary reasons for foreign travel—to learn, empathetically, how others live. But I don’t have to travel. All that it required is that I pay attention and “tell myself” to be interested in the life of someone other than myself.

Just recently I dined with the parents of a transgender child, now 19 years old. OMG. I learned so much about a subject very few people are even willing to discuss. What they taught me and informed me will change my perspective forever.

Stories of the life of another will impact you in the most surprising ways, including self-awareness.

Understanding Others Is

The Secret to Understanding Yourself

Photo courtesy of jacoblund at istockphoto

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