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Develop Your Empathy Muscles For Great Good

A while back, I made a flagrant comment on Twitter about how I assumed the world worked. It was something to the effect of “The internet levels the playing field, so someone without a job is without excuse”. Not shortly after I hit “Tweet”, did I receive an array of Tweets back from people I highly respected. I was immediately humbled, and it was pointed out to me that I had a severe lack of empathy.

I’m sure I was just lamenting from a previous encounter with someone who I felt was acting entitled and felt they deserved something unearned. We tend to take situational experiences and generalize them. I’d imagine this is how stereotypes are formed. But this conversation really opened my eyes to something I had never thought about before: empathy.

em·pa·thy noun
the ability to understand and share the feelings of another.

As software developers, it is our job to see things from other people’s perspectives. Without practicing empathy, we end up wasting our time trying to solve problems that don’t really exist. We also miss huge niches/opportunities simply because a problem that needs solving doesn’t relate to us.

So, how can you practice and develop empathy?

First, start by listening, a lot. You can’t expect to understand another person’s perspective without fully hearing what that is. In relation to this, you need to set aside your own viewpoint or opinion. Simply, hear the other person’s point of view without judgement.

Second, go outside of your comfort zone. Spend some time with people you might not normally encounter. These could be people with opposing politics/religion/world views/etc… Another good place to start is with people who are in need. I have learned many valuable lessons from visiting soup kitchens, elderly care facilities, and mission trips to impoverished countries.

Finally, attempt to understand the needs of the people around you whether you’re in the coffee shop, grocery store, or the office. There is always opportunity to learn and to grow if you are simply mindful.

Practicing empathy on a day to day basis will not only allow you to see and solve problems others don’t, it will also make you a better human.