Posted on November 02nd, 2023
As we find ourselves at the threshold of a transformative era for our planet, we humans are evolving, too. We are cultivating essential skillsets that are vital to co-create a liberated future where all beings experience joy and harmony. Among these crucial skills, empathy takes center stage. In this article, we’ll delve into the profound connection between actors, our empathy, and its impact on our world, and how you can use empathy, whether you’re an actor or not, for our collective liberation.
What is Empathy?
Let’s start by understanding empathy. Empathy, at its core, is the ability to understand and experience the feelings of another. It comes in various forms:
- Cognitive empathy: “You understand it.” This aspect involves understanding the emotions and perspectives of others.
- Emotional empathy: “You feel it.” Going beyond understanding, emotional empathy entails feeling the emotions of others as if they were your own.
- Compassionate empathy: “You understand, you feel it and you want to take action to do something about it.” A next-level form of empathy, where you are compelled to take action to transform someone's pain or distress.
- Self-empathy: “You’re self-aware.” This is understanding and acknowledging your own feelings and emotions, both in your mind, body, and energetic body.
Empathy plays an indispensable role in both personal and public contexts.
- In relationships: Empathy is the lifeblood of authentic connections. It fosters understanding, trust, and emotional support in your personal relationships.
- Social and emotional skills: The practice of empathy enhances your emotional intelligence, enabling you to navigate complex social situations with grace and sensitivity.
- Functioning social structures: On a broader scale, empathy forms the bedrock of functioning social structures. It promotes inclusivity, harmonious social cohesion, and a shared sense of responsibility.
When empathy is evidently absent we often experience its effects as discord and societal issues. Examples include conflicts fueled by misunderstanding, discrimination based on differences, and apathy towards global challenges.
Empathy as an Acting Skill
Actors develop a heightened affinity for empathy compared to the average person. Our craft revolves around the profound understanding and portraying of human emotions and experiences. Research from Boston College has shown that individuals receiving acting training exhibit "significant gains in empathy scores," suggesting that acting is a potent conduit for enhancing empathy.
Great actors possess a unique ability to astutely observe the world around them and emotionally relate to the experiences of others very quickly. This deep emotional connection enables us to immerse ourselves in unique characters and bring authenticity to their performances. Through awareness and emotional alchemy, actors are able to perceive and express empathy in a way that is both nuanced and powerful, often setting us apart from the “average person” in their capacity to understand and convey the complexities of human emotions and relationships.
Emotional Regulation: Overcoming Challenges
Despite its incredible power, empathy can pose challenges. One challenge can be an overwhelming amount of emotions and information from others, described as “uncontrolled empathy.” Another challenge can be difficulty balancing one’s own emotions or even understanding what they may be. A third challenge can be overcoming social conditioning: the societal norms that stigmatize some emotions as irrational or undesirable, i.e. “boys don’t cry.”
To overcome an inability to deal with another’s emotions, we can start by addressing our own emotions. Learning to understand, tolerate, and identify our own emotions is key. This means coming to grips with our own difficult emotions, tapping into their intensity, and learning to regulate them, tune them down, and keep our composure even when we can still feel them. Practices and support systems like intentional breathing, breathwork, dreamwork, meditation, therapy, energetic clearing, bodywork, grounding, somatics, and more can help with emotional regulation. Oftentimes when we can’t deal with another's intense emotions it’s because they bring up powerful emotions in ourselves causing us to lose control of our ability to effectively help another. When we can emotionally regulate our own emotions, we can more easily face another’s emotions. I’ve dedicated a large portion of my training to do this in order to get to the point where I can share now with you all and even hold space to support others along this journey.
As we continue on this evolutionary journey, empathy remains a potent tool for us all to shape a more compassionate and connected future.
Empathy as a Catalyst for Change
Whether you’re an actor or not, in our ever-evolving world, empathy can be used as a catalyst for change. As an actor, you may be especially called to champion empathy as a driving force to navigate the challenges of our time with grace and compassion. As we continue on this evolutionary journey, empathy remains a potent tool for us all to shape a more compassionate and connected future.
Karla McLaren offers a great take on this in her book, The Art of Empathy. She shares about the importance of being able to go from acknowledging your empathic abilities and feeling a sense of compassion for another to taking action because of it.
- Perspective-taking: Beyond being able to feel and understand another’s emotions in the moment, perspective-taking is about extrapolating needs based on the emotions you’ve observed. When you see the world through someone else’s eyes, you can consider what it would be like to live in their life if a particular circumstance happened like losing a pet, getting fired, having a bad encounter with the police, or going through depression, for example. It’s about starting to understand what they might need, what they might be expecting, the reasons for their feelings, or the story they’ve been telling themselves. Perspective-taking helps us prepare to take action to support another.
- Concern for others: A genuine desire to care for others is essential for taking action. You may imagine someone who has all the abilities of empathy but lacks a genuine care for others. That person could be someone with apathy or a manipulator. Having concern for others is essential towards harnessing our empathic skills for our future. An antidote for lacking a concern for others can be remembering the concern for ourselves and acknowledging our own emotions, just like we need to do for emotional regulation.
- Perceptive engagement: This is the ability to take action to comfort or support another in need. If someone is grieving, perceptive engagement is the ability to take an affirming action to comfort the person beyond only feeling compassion. Do the thing!
Now that we’ve identified the power of empathic action-taking, I’d love to share some specific ways in which individuals with a heightened sensitivity to the emotions and experiences of others have a unique potential to influence and change the world. Here are some ways in you can harness your empathic abilities to make a significant impact:
- Promoting inclusivity: Empathy helps people appreciate and embrace our differences by understanding and respecting the experiences and perspectives of others. It can counter discrimination, bias, and prejudice by fostering a sense of shared humanity and breaking down stereotypes. We can emphasize the importance of valuing differences and creating environments where everyone feels welcome. We can educate others about our differing experiences and promote opportunities for all.
- Empowering social change: Empathy can fuel social activism and advocacy. When people understand the suffering or injustice faced by others, they are more likely to take action and drive positive change. Empathetic movements have historically played pivotal roles in advocating for civil rights, gender equality, environmental protection, and more. Share your own stories to inspire others to be more compassionate.
- Building stronger relationships: Empathetic communities are more cohesive and resilient. Neighbors who understand and care about each other are more likely to work together in times of need. Community leaders and organizations can use empathy to address social issues and develop solutions that benefit everyone.
- Empowering effective leadership: Empathetic leaders and colleagues create a positive and supportive environment, improving teamwork and collaboration. Leaders who lead with empathy are often more effective and inspirational, making it easier to motivate others towards shared goals. Empathetic leadership can drive positive change on a larger scale by prioritizing the needs and well-being of the community or organization. If you hold leadership roles, lead by example with empathy. Create work or community environments that prioritize emotional well-being and foster a culture of care and support. Encourage open communication, active listening, and empathy among team members or community members.
- Conflict resolution: Empathy plays a critical role in conflict resolution by helping those involved understand each other's grievances and perspectives. Mediators and negotiators use empathy to facilitate peaceful dialogue and reach mutually beneficial agreements. Help parties in dispute understand each other's perspectives and find common ground. Contribute to peace-making efforts in your community or on a broader scale.
- Supporting mental health: As an empathetic person, it's essential to prioritize self-care to prevent burnout. Regularly engage in activities that recharge your energy, such as mindfulness, meditation, or spending time in nature. Experiencing gratitude, love, and awe have been shown to improve health conditions all around. Set healthy boundaries to protect your own well-being while still supporting others. Use your empathic abilities to provide a listening ear to individuals who may be struggling emotionally. Advocate for mental health awareness, reduce stigma, and offer support to those in need.
- Mentorship & educating future generations: Share your empathetic insights and skills with others. Mentor individuals who want to develop their empathy and emotional intelligence. Encourage and support younger generations in their efforts to create a more empathetic world. Schools can teach empathy as a core value, emphasizing the importance of understanding and caring for others. Empathetic children grow up to be compassionate and socially responsible adults.
- Global solidarity: Empathy extends beyond borders and cultures. It encourages people to care about global issues such as poverty, climate change, and humanitarian crises. Global empathy can drive international cooperation and support for initiatives aimed at addressing global challenges.
- Individual acts of kindness: Empathy can be expressed through simple acts of kindness. Greeting someone, holding the door for someone, helping a stranger in need, or listening to a friend can brighten someone's day and create a ripple effect of positivity. One person affects another and another and another…
- Inspiring others: Lastly, it’s important to restate our power as artists to inspire others through our creativity and art. We evoke empathy and provoke thought through our various forms of expression that touch people's hearts and minds and can even inspire them to take action.
Empathy is not only a fundamental human quality, but a key to unlock our next level of life on Earth. By harnessing your empathic abilities and channeling them toward meaningful causes, you can play a pivotal role in evolving our world into a more compassionate and understanding place for all beings to experience joy and harmony. When individuals and communities prioritize empathy, we can collectively co-create the liberated futures we dream of.
Original posted HERE.