This post comes from a series I wrote as part of a private Tumblr account, way back in 2012. I thought it would be cool to reproduce some of my amateur psychology here 🙂
I believe the key to self development is empathy. You can’t improve yourself if you don’t care about yourself, and you can’t care about yourself until you learn to care about people in general. And you can’t care about people, unless you can put yourself in their shoes and live their lives for a little while.
We live our lives in our own heads. As much as we try to be objective, it’s impossible to look at ourselves as others see us. This hampers our ability to improve ourselves, because we can’t really see what our problems are. We don’t want to think that we talk too much, we’re bad with money, we’re opinionated… we forgive ourselves for our faults and overlook our issues.. and that means we can’t make the hard choices needed to move ourselves to the next level.
There will come a time in your development where you will need to hear and deal with unbiased and unrestrained opinions about yourself from the people around you. And although their opinions will be skewed by their own beliefs about themselves, you can average the opinions of many people and come to conclusions about yourself that way.
I believe the ability to get on with people, get close to them and form meaningful relationships is grounded in the ability to put yourself in their shoes. To be them, as much as that is possible. To understand what it’s like to enjoy eating onions, even if you hate onions. To love death metal the way your head-banging, dreadlock-wielding friend loves death metal, despite only ever being into Guns n’ Roses when you were a rebellious teen.
How do you do this? It starts by putting yourself to one side. It’s an almost Buddhist discarding of the ego. When you decide to connect with another person, you need to disconnect yourself. Put away comparisons you make between that person and you. Put away the way they make you feel, or the memories they trigger in you. Don’t think or judge or care.
Look at the person and the way they move, and talk. Imagine standing where they’re standing, saying what they’re saying. The mood, the attitude, the words – they’re yours for a little while. You like what they like, you want what they want.
Now, you can’t be that person. But humans are similar enough that we can understand to some degree what living is like for other people, and we can extrapolate feelings and experiences we’ve never had.
Empathy is like piggy backing on someone’s mind. Once you’ve done it enough with one person, you can start to build a mental picture of them. Start to predict their thoughts and actions. You’ll see that they have a lot of the same fears you do. You’ll be ok with forgetting about yourself, and you’ll start to care about them. Really care.
That’s the first step to caring about yourself.