What is Empathy and Why is it Important?

Empathy as a Superpower

Empathy is the invisible glue of togetherness. It is our capacity to recognize feelings experienced by another, a prerequisite for compassion. It is so important that many animals are capable of it, and babies develop empathy (and the necessary mirror neurons) from an early age. When we are tuned into it, we can experience deep intimacy, compassion, and close-knit communities based on trust and understanding.

The Secret Ingredient of Relationships

In our communication with each other, empathy is the carrier wave of emotional understanding. If we are open to this signal, we can guess the current status of the relationship, moment by moment. We know the heart of the other person. Great teachers and true leaders are aware of this and are capable of communicating directly with the hearts of their followers.

How Did We Forget?

As we grow up, many of us get mixed messages about the value and role of empathy. Mainstream culture values power and violence, dismissing compassion as weakness. Many of us go through hierarchical social structures and institutions that demand disregard for our feelings in the name of success. Unfortunately, such a strategy cannot sustain healthy relationships, including the most important relationship — the one with ourselves. This comes with a high price: trying to be perfect, to be invulnerable, to numb ourselves. We may end up having a hard time relating to the ones we love the most and lose touch with who we really are. We may see ourselves replaying unwanted patterns, creating painful experiences with our closest people, seemingly unable to learn from our mistakes.

Healing Our Relationships

Imagine having an intimate relationship with an unguarded heart. A relationship where you are seen as you are and never compromise, where instead of toxic conflict, the heat of disagreements engenders personal growth and more intimacy. Imagine having a kind and understanding relationship with yourself. One without blame, shame or punishment.

The Empathy School workshops aim to bring empathy back into your life so that you can have sustainable and healthy long-term relationships, including with yourself. We believe that this is the very foundation of a healthy life of community and partnership. We teach clear communication based on Nonviolent Communication principles and embodied emotional processing, inviting our students to experience and understand the healing power of true empathic listening:

When someone really hears you without passing judgment on you, without taking responsibility for you, without trying to mold you, it feels damn good.  When I have been listened to, when I have been heard, I am able to re-perceive my world in a new way and go on. It is astonishing how elements that seem insoluble become soluble when someone listens. How confusions that seem irremediable become relatively clear flowing streams when one is heard.

(Carl Rogers)