How Deep Does Your Empathy Go?

(Note: NVC is an abbreviation for Nonviolent Communication, a fluid, ever-evolving language process created by Dr. Marshall Rosenberg. It is also sometimes referred to as Compassionate Communication, and is based on universal human feelings and needs, the giving of empathy and making humble requests rather than demands.)

Though moral judgments and evaluations are not likely to help build compassionate connection between people in the nonviolent communication process, value judgments can be helpful to us in finding what we want or need. There is nothing hurtful in making pure value judgments.

Empathy, to me, is somewhat like fuel. Let’s say there is hi-test, regular gasoline, and low-test. We are not placing moral judgments on gasoline, we’re just looking in a matter-of-fact way at its properties and qualities. Hi-test fuel is not always “better” than other grades, depending on the engine and the situation.

Likewise with empathy. We are not judging it moralistically, but matter-of-factly. There is deep, pure empathy which is rare, because few know how to hold their mind still enough to channel this kind of empathy. There is mid-grade empathy, which is easier to find, and then there is low-grade empathy which is the most common.

A friend once told me that all he needs, sometimes, is low-grade empathy. He had an agreement with a friend that they would call each other whenever they were deeply annoyed or angry, to provide low-grade empathy for each other. The other would agree to just listen dispassionately over the phone, to hear the general drift of the rant, perhaps while doing other things. They may even set the phone down and ignore it while waiting for the anger to subside, then pick up the phone again to say the occasional “Uh huh, yeah, I hear ya.” This kind of empathy gives the caller a chance to vent and release some toxic emotional energy. It may even give the illusion of healing or helping one to get clear on his feelings and needs.

Mid-grade empathy is more concentrated, where the empathy giver listens more attentively and pays attention to both his own feelings and those of the caller. The empathy giver may also have his attention diverted occasionally with ideas he wants to offer as strategies to help the other person deal with the painful situation. He may stop occasionally to reflect back to the caller what he’s hearing and understanding in his own words, to reassure the caller that he is listening and following accurately.

Hi-test empathy is fully concentrated. I want to say it is 100% selfless, focused entirely on the caller, but this word, selfless, is sometimes misunderstood as ignoring or abandoning one’s own self and thereby one’s own needs. There is another way to explain the selflessness often spoken of in traditional religious and mystic philosophies. For the time that one acts selflessly, he has chosen to see himself in the other, and the other in himself. If every person and every being and virtually every single thing in the universe is ultimately part of a larger whole, then they are all connected in some way, part of each other.

To give hi-test empathy requires a deep understanding of this mystical sort of awareness or expanded consciousness on the part of the empathy giver. Some find that meditation or other spiritual practices may help to open or deepen this understanding.

Remember, if one develops the ability to give hi-test empathy to others, one can also give it to himself when no other empathy is available.

About swpollack

I’m an independent mediator and collaborative communication coach who can help you to co-create greater ease, connection and mutual understanding in your personal and professional relationships. As a non-traditional specialist, my aim is to get concrete results for my clients in a fraction of the time usually required by traditional therapy and counseling. Please visit my business website: . The emotion-based coaching work I do is deeply therapeutic, yet I am neither a psychologist nor a psychotherapist. Instead I work with a holistic, empathic process called compassionate, nonviolent communication. I also facilitate ongoing support groups for people who want to learn this organic process of nonjudgmental communication to help build bridges of connection, harmony, collaboration and understanding. For more about my Build Compassionate Relationships meetup group, visit: . I’ve been offering these services to the public since 2000 in the greater Miami and Fort Lauderdale area, as well as by phone and through Skype conferencing. . Nonviolent Communication is a process developed by Dr. Marshall Rosenberg. It’s based on a very pure, nonjudgmental language of feelings, needs and requests. I’ve found this to be a powerful tool in my mediation work which involves bringing two or more people together despite a painful history of conflict.
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