Saturday, September 22, 2012

Empathy of Simplicity

This will be part II (of a three part series), here is part I:

I hope I've convinced you that most people are generally similar. We have three main traits that often overlap, sometimes for odd or completely random reasons. They are:

  • Inherent similarities are basically our instincts
  • Cultural similarities are what we learn from our culture.
  • Deeply rooted are similarities that arise with experiences that aren't necessarily human-created.

These three overlapping characteristics are in all of us, and they are the very reason empathy exists. The farther the geographical and cultural differences become, the more people must rely on inherent or deeply-rooted experiences. When someone empathizes with a starving child in Africa, it is not because they know what it is like to starve in a tribal village in Africa - they know what hunger feels like, and hopelessness (which are inherent, and arguably deeply-rooted experiences, respectively).

When you are able to empathize with a friend who has gotten into a fight in a relationship, or has lost a loved one, this is usually due to similar experiences - those that are deeply rooted. When you are able to empathize with strangers, simply by how they dress or how they look - this is most often the case of cultural overlap. Some people will claim this is "judging" other people by how they look, but really we can say judging is just seeing empathy in a negative way.

Empathy is so powerful. It is what binds us as friends, companions, and even the human race. Our ability to form solid communities and families is based on empathy. If we could not feel what the other is feeling, it would become very difficult to form bonds of any kind. We would feel very alienated and cold towards each other. A smile TELLS us what the other is thinking - a frown, the same. 

Empathy is so powerful, in fact, when one becomes consciously aware of it, as well as trained enough to master it - it can become a predictor of many things, entire life outcomes can be easily seen. 

But how does empathy work exactly?

Empathy works on our subconscious. Remember, our race didn't always have a solid language, so how would we have communicated in our tribes we are hungry, sick, or happy? Obviously monkeys can get these across, and I'm willing to bet you could tell when a monkey was hungry if you watched it for long enough. Empathy is completely driven on body language and tone. These two things compromise our inner secrets, desires, and feelings. The muscles in the face can tell hundreds of stories from the same paragraph, if the reader expresses them. A lie cannot be hidden completely - there are always ways to see past it. 

Your tone when you speak will always give away more than you think, and when you try to control your tone, even more can be seen! Our consciousness does not work the exact same as the subconscious, and thus attempting to control bodily functions gives away that we are trying to change.

Your use of hand gestures can give away nervousness, uncertainty, passion, and true feeling. Attempting to control these is easier than tone or facial expression, but is still powerful for communicating effectively.

Your face gives away so much information it is incredible. Small, tiny changes in facial muscles can be the difference between sincerity and a fabricated lie. A heightened cheek can be the difference between happiness and a covering up of negativity.

Finally, the most hard to control is the vocabulary - how we string our words together (and what words we have available). This is impossible to control, and is the largest give away of someone. It tells us cultural experiences, emotional background, truth and falsity and everything in between. The dynamics are so large, here, however, that it can be a grey area unless you become really trained. Word selections between such words as "poor" and "lower-class" give away entire paradigms. In fact, the less amount of vocabulary we know, the less defined (or complex) our opinions can be! Realize what I just said there - your perceptions of things can change based on your vocabulary! 

These four factors, in relation to their origin (inherent, cultural, or deeply-rooted) can paint a picture of the internal you so vivid and complex, you may get embarrassed! In fact, there are some psychologists who have studied facial muscles and tonal structure for so long they can predict divorce between two partners within the next 5 years with greater than 70% accuracy, just by watching them in a room for one hour. This isn't empathy as you know it - this isn't feeling "bad" for someone who is less fortunate - this is putting yourself in someone else's shoes and predicting the future, and understanding their past.

Part 3 Coming soon...
Here's a video on Mirror Neurons, hopefully it will keep you busy until next time;

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