The world today seems a much scarier place than it did 15 or 20 years ago. The culture in the US has shifted in ways that create isolation and frustration to dangerous levels, and we see the results in tragedies over and over again.
And I haven’t had to look at the headlines to see it. I’ve found this lack of empathy in the lives of the people around me.
The truth is that humanity is wired to be self-centered. We all naturally see the world in relation to how it affects us and make decisions based on perceived personal benefit. In the US, with our high value for individualism, this tendency has been given free rein, with occasional catastrophic results.
However, when these tragedies happen, most voices are calling out for “remedies” that seem superficial to me. I believe the root cause is that people have not developed empathy, or the ability to see the world from another’s perspective.
A mark of personal maturity is the ability to put others first, to consider their needs before you consider your own. In generations past, this quality was valued and celebrated. In our culture today, people are both ridiculed and praised for this level of maturity.
- People are often considered a “doormat” or accused of being naïve at best, a fool at worst, when they put others first.
- People may be praised as heroic or as a respected leader when they put the needs of others first, especially in a crisis.
This maturity level goes by several different labels: an element emotional intelligence, the key characteristic of level 5 leadership, the foundation of connective influence
However, it seems to me that developing this level of maturity depends on whether you have a scarcity mindset. John Maxwell says, “Scarcity thinking is all about me. It says, ‘There’s not enough to go around. I had better get something for myself and hold on to it with all I have’” (Maxwell, 226).
With this mindset, it is impossible to think of others and to put their needs first. If we want to develop empathy, we have to start by replacing our scarcity mindset.
Combating Scarcity Thinking
Could it really be that simple? I believe so.
I once heard, long ago, that the founder of the JC Penny stores was a generous man who tried to out-give God, so I looked a little into his life. I discovered that the original name of his store was “The Golden Rule,” and he conducted business under that philosophy: “This company’s success is due to the application of the Golden Rule to every individual, the public and to all of our activities” (Barmash).
When he died, he was a very wealthy and successful businessman, in spite of having been wiped out during the Depression. One of his applications of this principle was in how he treated his employees, whom he referred to as associates, by implementing a profit sharing plan.
There are other examples we can look at – C. J. Walker, Oprah Winfrey and Bill Gates, to name a few – to find that an abundance mindset can make all the difference.
“Abundance thinking is the mindset of people of significance, and it has nothing to do with how much they have. … But whatever they have, they are willing to share because they don’t worry about running out” (Maxwell, 227). This is the mindset necessary to develop empathy.
If you want to begin cultivating an abundance mindset in your own life, start with gratitude. I challenge you to daily write down three to five things you are grateful for in your life. Before long, you will begin to see the world through a different lens – the lens of abundance.
Take It Deeper
Sometimes it’s hard to know where to start. If you would like to go deeper on this topic, I hold free exploratory coaching sessions each week. You can register online at Troy Communications or email me to schedule an appointment at TMTroy@TroyCommunications.Net
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Barmash, I. (1971) J. C. Penney of Store Chain Dies; Built Business on ‘Golden Rule.’ The New York Times. https://www.nytimes.com/1971/02/13/archives/j-c-penney-of-store-chain-dies-built-business-on-golden-rule-j-c.html
Collins, J. (2001). Good to Great: Why Some Companies Make the Leap . . . and Others Don’t.
Goleman, D. (2005) Emotional Intelligence
Goulston, M. and Ullmen, J. (2013). Real Influence: Persuade without Pushing and Gain without Giving In.
Maxwell, J. C. (2015) Intentional Living: Choosing a Life that Matters.