It can be nearly impossible to get someone to understand what empathy truly is if it does not come naturally. In those cases, there are any number of misinterpretations of what empathy could be.
A good way to explain empathy could be to look at it through the eyes of some of the most empathetic creatures around: dogs.
Imagine a series of lectures given by dogs entitled “Understand Your Human,” such as the following.
Understand Your Human, Topic #1: Do Humans Have Empathy?
BORDER COLLIE HOST: Woof woof, everyone! Welcome to the first day of our “Understand Your Human” talks. We’re starting off strong for this first talk with the topic “Do Humans Have Empathy?” I rounded up speaker Killian Collie. Killian’s a renowned therapy dog and human expert. Please give him a warm welcome.
KILLIAN COLLIE: Thank you so very much. I would like to put forth a scenario today. Suppose your human has lost a job….I see drooping ears and sad eyes. I even hear a few whines. I will wait a moment while we empathize.
(Waits until whining subsides.)
We dogs automatically empathized–I saw it throughout the room. Let us take, though, Human Example 1, who may say nice things but does not *feel* what Jobless Human is going through. Human Example 2, however, may indeed feel empathy–just like us dogs.
You see, most humans do not have empathy, no matter how much we want them to.
(Irritated growls in the audience.)
A very difficult problem with humans is that the non-empathetic ones may think the empathetic humans–”empaths,” as they sometimes call themselves–are sad. And that the only way they can understand, for example, sadness, is because they are sad themselves.
Of course, we dogs know exactly that’s what empathy is! That we do not have to be something to understand it.
I see a lot of puppies in attendance. Your empathy may not be fully developed until about the same time you’re done teething. It is different for all. Puppies must remember that:
1) Empathy is like having a clone of yourself that can understand things, process things even the same way someone else would. Not all humans do this.
2) This does not mean you will start thinking like others all the time or that that’s how you’re going to make your decisions. It just means that you understand it. It’s like doing research: You’re looking into other things but you don’t act on all of them. You may understand everything that you research, but are you going to put all of those things into action? No.
We continue by looking at how humans ironically understand and appreciate wisdom, but not empathy. Many unwise humans recognize wisdom when they see it or hear it. Yet if they are not empathetic, they do not see the value in empathy.
(Confused looks from many dogs in the audience.)
I have seen non-empathetic humans who think somebody’s got anxiety if they feel another person’s feelings; otherwise they wouldn’t be able to go into that same mental space as another (or they think the other human has depression or something like that).
Remember that empathy applies to positive emotions and thoughts just as much as the tougher ones. Notice I didn’t say “bad” ones. The non-empathetic humans do not understand that empaths feel happiness, too: Like when your best friend gets a new squeaky toy. The thing for humans is that it will be more noticeable with difficult circumstances because if everything’s good, humans just kind of heel. If not, that’s when action is taken. So you simply just don’t see it with the more positive side of things.
Puppies must remember that no matter what their humans say, empathy is not a symptom: It is a trait. Empathy is a trait both male and female humans can have. Some humans think it is more within females, but this is not so. If a male human suggests otherwise, it is acceptable to emit a low growl.
In closing, do humans have empathy? Some do, some don’t. Be patient with the ones who don’t–and cherish the ones who do.