The other morning I was listening to “Hurt” by Christina Aguilera. It’s a song about a daughter who loses her father and never got a chance to tell him how much he meant to her or how sorry she was that their relationship had deteriorated. There’s a line in the chorus where she says “I’m sorry for blaming you for everything I just couldn’t do, and I’ve hurt myself by hurting you.”
As I was making a cup of coffee listening to that song blasting through my cordless headphones, I started getting all choked up. With tears welling in my eyes, I asked myself “why in god’s name am I crying”? I’m not a daughter. My father isn’t dead. We don’t have an estranged relationship. In fact, I talk to him almost every day and the last time I hurt him was when I refused to stay home on a Saturday night in 1987 after I had my wisdom teeth pulled.
And then it hit me…empathy
On its surface, it seems basic.
The ability to see the other side, to imagine what it would be like to be someone else and feel their pain or have to deal with their lot in life.
But too often it is easier to see the world from our own vantage point, which can be limiting. It’s true in personal relationships, it’s true in politics and it’s true in business.
In business, it’s critical to see the other side. If you want to win a negotiation or convince someone to follow your lead or avoid confrontation, you need to understand where the other person is coming from. If not, you’re blind to their perspective and blind to what motivates them. And business is all about motivation.
These days I spend a ton of time dealing with doctors and patients who are battling cancer. It’s easier to have empathy, because the reality of the disease and what it means for the people diagnosed and their loved ones is so miserable that if it doesn’t tug at your heart, you likely don’t have one. The heartache is that palpable.
It’s harder to have empathy in our everyday lives, but equally important. And while none of us are perfect (at least I’m certainly not), it seems like a hell of a New Year’s resolution – to have more empathy.
Imagine a world full of more of it.
It would be nearly impossible to hurt someone if you could feel their pain. No murder, no rape, no assault. No child abuse. No bitter divorces. No bullies on the playground.
Wars would be nearly impossible to wage. Lawsuits would be few and far between.
Almost every ounce of pain we cause as a people would be muted by the fact that it’s harder to cause pain when you feel it yourself. Like the world’s biggest voodoo doll, every time someone went to inflict harm they would first feel the impact of that harm on themselves.
And in that world, I would imagine our priorities would shift. Instead of spending billions on tanks and tankers, most of our tax dollars would be directed to eradicating disease and suffering. We would invest in science and healthcare so fathers and mothers and sons and daughters wouldn’t have to suffer when they hear words like “cancer”.
So maybe this year our collective New Year’s resolution should be “a little more empathy.” It can’t hurt. 🙂