How To Become A More Compassionate Person

Showing empathy for other people is a genuine superpower.

Matt Lillywhite
Jan 7 · 5 min read
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Photo by Abbat on Unsplash

I want to tell you something that I’ve been hesitant to talk about for a long time: I’m not proud of the person I used to be.

Growing up, I thought that everyone had to agree with me. So if someone disagreed with what I had to say, I genuinely believed it was my moral duty to inform them of the correct opinion. Specifically, my opinion.

But after a while, I realized that strategy wasn’t getting me anywhere. Nobody wanted to have a conversation with me. In fact, everyone tried their best to avoid it as I’d always correct them whenever they made a tiny mistake. Looking back, it’s not a surprise my social life sucked.

But one day, I tried something different. I practiced empathy. Instead of convincing people that I had the correct answer, I stopped talking and started to listen. And slowly but surely, I began to understand why they held certain opinions and perspectives.

I quickly learned that showing empathy for other people is a rare superpower that can get you extremely far in life. As the British philosopher Bertrand Russell once wrote:

“Love is wise; hatred is foolish. In this world, which is getting more and more closely interconnected, we have to learn to tolerate each other, we have to learn to put up with the fact that some people say things that we don’t like. We can only live together in that way. But if we are to live together and not die together, we must learn a kind of charity and a kind of tolerance, which is absolutely vital to the continuation of human life on this planet.”

It’s important to remember that you’re a product of your past experiences (and so is everyone else). So expecting to agree on everything would be foolish. However, trying to understand someone’s point of view could make it much easier to find common ground during every conversation.

Here’s how to start.

Understand Yourself Before You Try To Understand Other People.

“Knowing others is intelligence. Knowing yourself is true wisdom. Mastering others is strength. Mastering yourself is true power.” — Lao Tzu

As the old adage goes, you should try and put your own oxygen mask on first. Look within yourself and understand the rationale behind your own way of thinking. Because once you can understand why you hold certain opinions, it’ll be much easier to do the same for others. Quoting an article published by Psychology Today:

“When you are feeling challenged and misunderstood yourself, empathizing with someone else is difficult. And if you are not aware of your own inner experience and emotional and mental state, how can you be sure that that which you perceive to be part of the other, is not rather a projection of your own self upon them? That is why the first step towards empathizing with someone else is to empathize with yourself.”

This is why I write down my feelings and thoughts in a journal every morning. For 10 minutes, I articulate everything that’s on my mind — good or bad. Implementing this daily habit has made it much easier to understand my own way of thinking and empathize with myself.

Regularly check in on your emotions, and treat yourself like someone you’re responsible for helping. Doing so could have a profound effect on your ability to communicate with other people.

Pretend You’re A Spy Working For The FBI.

“When another blames you or hates you, or people voice similar criticisms, go to their souls, penetrate inside and see what sort of people they are. You will realize that there is no need to be racked with anxiety that they should hold any particular opinion about you.”―Marcus Aurelius

During a conversation, imagine you’re a secret agent who’s been asked to understand the other person’s mindset. How did their childhood and upbringing influence their current beliefs? How does their current environment shape the way they see the world?

Chances are, you don’t agree with the other person on absolutely everything. But that’s okay. Disagreements over politics (and other topics) are inevitable if you come from different backgrounds. As David Ludden writes in Psychology Today:

“The region where you grew up is a strong predictor of your political orientation in adulthood, but again there are plenty of exceptions. If you were raised in rural Georgia or Arkansas, you’re likely quite conservative, and yet these regions also produced two Democratic presidents — Jimmy Carter and Bill Clinton. Likewise, New Yorkers are notoriously liberal, yet our current Republican president hails from the Big Apple.”

It took me a long time to accept that not everyone had the same political beliefs as me. I thought people who disagreed with my worldview were idiots who were stupid and delusional. But once I started understanding the reasons behind people’s opinions, it quickly became a lot easier to show empathy and respect during a conversation.

Investigate why someone thinks a certain way. Then, try to understand the rationale behind their perspective. Once you can understand why they think the way they do, it’ll (probably) become much easier to show compassion during a conversation.

Someday, you’ll look back on your life and feel incredibly proud of your ability to connect with everyone you meet on a meaningful level. You’ll have put in the necessary work to become more empathetic, compassionate, and respectful of other people. To make that happen, you need to try and make a tiny bit of progress each day.

Unfortunately, compassion and empathy aren’t traits that you’ll develop overnight. But if you can implement the above strategies, it’ll only be a matter of time before you find yourself having much better relationships than you ever thought possible. So what are you waiting for?

Start now.

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