Seasonal Values – For Every Season: Empathy, 22nd December

22. Empathy

“When you start to develop your powers of empathy and imagination, the whole world opens up to you.”

Susan Sarandon


“When we honestly ask ourselves which person in our lives mean the most to us, we often find that it is those who, instead of giving advice, solutions, or cures, have chosen rather to share our pain and touch our wounds with a warm and tender hand. The friend who can be silent with us in a moment of despair or confusion, who can stay with us in an hour of grief and bereavement, who can tolerate not knowing, not curing, not healing and face with us the reality of our powerlessness, that is a friend who cares.”

Henri. J.M. Nouwen


“To perceive is to suffer.”



“Self-absorption in all its forms kills empathy, let alone compassion. When we focus on ourselves, our world contracts as our problems and preoccupations loom large. But when we focus on others, our world expands. Our own problems drift to the periphery of the mind and so seem smaller, and we increase our capacity for connection – or compassionate action.” 

Daniel Goleman

When we started this advent series, we looked at many of the lists of values and virtues that you can find on the internet, and decided on what we wanted to discuss.

Today’s “value” is particularly interesting for us because we wouldn’t necessarily call it a ‘value’. That’s not to say that we don’t value it. It’s an aspect of life that we feel is enormously important. In fact, we consider it so important, that it’s a central part of one of our six intelligences.


Those who have been regular readers of our blog, will know that we have recently been spending time discussing physical intelligence and the relationship between this and metaphysical or spiritual intelligence.

Today, we would like to spend a brief time looking at another of our intelligences axes; that of social and personal intelligence.

Balance between personal and social intelligence is something that we must all learn to master in order to live calm, contented and fulfilled lives. We need to know ourselves and we need to develop our own skills, interests and passions but simultaneously we need to be mindful of the needs of others.
We need to show a little empathy – in thought, word and deed.

Social intelligence is being aware of the needs of others, knowing how to interact with others, learning how to adapt in relation to others and enjoying the fact that we are sociable animals, amongst other things.

There are times in life when we need solitude but there are also times when however much we love time to ourselves, we need other people. We just need warmth and companionship. And love.
So how do we balance the needs of others with our own needs? How do we learn how to be selfless and mindful of the self at the same time?

Empathy is an important factor in maintaining this balance. If we can’t understand how other human beings feel in difficult and trying times, then how can we make informed choices about what we choose to do for ourselves?

Of course we can make choices irrespective of any empathy we might feel for another person, but that isn’t always the most intelligent thing to do, and other times it is absolutely the right thing to do – because it’s right for us.

If we live our lives totally consumed with empathy for others, then we are in grave danger of losing ourselves; not satisfying our own needs, which can lead to frustration and disappointment.

Empathy enables us to put ourselves in another person’s position and try to ascertain what it is the right course of action. Empathy gives us insight into other peoples’ lives, how they might feel and what could be right for them, as well as us.

Sometimes, we can be in an empathetic situation without it affecting us and our choices at all, but that doesn’t prevent us from being empathetic. We just don’t have to make any choices according to our empathy. For example, we could empathise with the plight of starving people but be unable to feed them ourselves. That doesn’t prevent us from being empathetic, and imagining what it must be like to be in their situation, but it just means there isn’t an immediate course of action.

This brings us onto another interesting subject, and one that we will return to at a later date – the difference between sympathy and empathy, and whether you can be empathetic or empathic without action.

You can feel sympathy for someone without feeling their sorrow yourself. Empathy requires imagination or experience to take the concern for others beyond mere sympathy.

Empathy also implies action. If you can understand how a person might feel sad or bereft, then that is sympathy. If you then feel what they are feeling based on thought or experience or affection for that person, then you are being empathetic. If you have the ability to do something about that other person’s sadness, without necessarily changing your own course, that is empathetic action. If you understand and then do nothing whatsoever to support someone else, then you’re probably back to sympathy rather than empathy.

In this advent time, we should make sure that we endeavour to balance the needs of others with our own needs. Giving and receiving is an important part of the Christmas period. The whole point of present buying and giving should be based on empathy; thinking about another person’s needs and wishes, then trying to place yourself in their shoes on receiving a gift that has been lovingly bought.

That’s why there is so much to receive for oneself in giving, be it a present or a small part of yourself in order live peacefully.


The next few days we will be posting our final three posts in full on both our 3diphilosophy site as well as our main blog site.

We hope you will have time to have a quiet reflective moment at some point in each of the next three busy days.

“When people talk, listen completely. Most people never listen.”

Ernest Hemingway


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