The word empathy goes around as a common word and is often used in many of our conversations. However, being able to empathise with others in your day-to-day life is no easy task.ates and associates. I realised that it was the way I looked at things. I could almost assess the rights and wrongs, instinctively.
My friend Saturn, the planet that the entire universe is afraid of, decided to teach me a lesson; understanding the value of empathy. I was down in bed for over two months, and this gave me time to contemplate many of my personal philosophies. I was going through a short negative period of effects of the movement of Saturn in my personal horoscope.
The thought came to me that I should reflect (in reverse) the inside, outside and the outside, inside. To explain this sentence simply, I realised that I needed to forgive others, if I wanted to forgive myself. That’s right. That if I kept looking at shortcomings in others, I would always see my own shortcomings and not be able to look at the light within. How can one see divinity in oneself, if one sees oneself with so many blemishes all the time? I found it necessary to alter a quotation from the Bible. I realised that “I need to do unto others as I would do unto myself.”
Think about it, when you care for other people, it becomes natural for you to care for yourself. A person who is in the habit of admiring others, doesn’t miss out on himself or herself. This is what I mean when I said, that you need to reflect the inside outside and vice versa.
Knowing that people need to play out their karma and to live out their pre-programmed destinies, knowing that people are what they are programmed to be, and reflect the attributes of their gunas, it is technically difficult to blame them for what they do and how they think. Jesus put it better than me when he said, “Father forgive them for they know not what they do.”
I started looking at people in a different light. If sometimes, they behaved in a certain way to gain attention, instead of seeing this is as a fault, I started seeing this as a part of their nature, and something I needed to accept.
When my son behaved in the way he does, being pleasure seeking, burning the candle at both ends, I realised he couldn’t help himself. It was his age, this was the period of his destiny that he had to live out. The planetary effects did not allow hard work, commitment, seriousness or sincerity. On the contrary they encouraged callousness, casualness, the constant desire for fun times. I had a choice. I could hate that and hold it against him, or I could empathise with him and accept the fact that he would change later, probably I needed to hold my horses and be patient. My relationship with him changed. A better way to say it is, if you can’t beat them join them! He tries as much as he can, but not as much as I would like him to. I empathise with his state of being, and I empathise with myself, because I can’t make him do things the way I would like him to.
I am not surprised anymore, when I look at people who do not behave the way they should. Earlier, I would think they do not have a balanced mind, are reactive and immature. That would make me look down at most people and naturally, I would consider them lesser mortals. With my new-found empathy, I realised that the world is what it is for me, and the world is what it is for them. I do not try to superimpose my personal attitudes and style of thinking upon others.
Earlier, every time I went to a social gathering. I thought it was mental torture because people were trying to sound so profound about trivial things. They seriously discussed things that meant nothing to me, and possibly meant nothing to them too. An entire evening would vanish with conversation that sounded like garbage to me and left me frustrated. Today I realise, it is not the fault of the people I socialised with, it was my fault for not being empathetic enough to realise that my journey was different from theirs, and who is to say which is the right one? So now I can attend a social gathering and talk Greek in good English!
Many years ago, I walked over an old newspaper by accident. It had a photograph of Mr. J.R.D Tata. I respected this man a lot because he was a kind-hearted Indian industrialist. He was generous and charitable and wasn’t egoistic like so many others. The newspaper carried his interview. It quoted him saying, ”Many times we are disappointed with executives who work for us because we expect them to think the way we would and behave as we would expect ourselves to behave.” This was a learning of this business icon and he allowed himself to adapt to the fact that he needed to lower his expectations from the people who worked with him. His personal experience was that he found it easier to deal with people when he adopted that attitude. He was regarded as one of the most successful people in India, almost universally. I remembered that quote, but it took me some time to be able to put it to practice.
If you reflect upon what we have discussed so far, you will accept the fact that empathy is an important ingredient in dealing with ourselves.
A Story of Arrogance
Let us not forget that being empathetic does not mean we are not critical in our analysis of ourselves and our shortcomings. Empathy should not dull our observatory. We need to be aware of what is not correct in our own nature and behaviour and to create the intent to change.
Let me give you a strange example. While I was having lunch with a childhood friend, I happened to say something to another guest at the restaurant. The guest wanted to know whether I was the owner of this restaurant, and though I was, I said “No, I assist the manager here.” When I sat down again to continue our lunch she smiled at me and said that she thought I was rather arrogant. Excuse me! I thought that was a modest statement. Why did she think that was arrogant?
She explained, “It seems that you don’t care what people think of you and so you can talk about yourself as anobody. It is like you are standing right up there, looking down at everybody here.” That was a pretty lopsided view, I thought. The discussion changed. But, when I went home and reflected on her statement, I realised that there was some truth in her observation. Yes, I was arrogant!
I discussed my horoscope with my astrologer friend and asked him to decipher whether arrogance was shown to exist in my horoscope. On analysis, he seemed to agree with the fact that it was, and he gave me planetary justifications for it. Oops! It was not a savoury analysis to look at. I didn’t like the fact that I could be arrogant. However, what this did for me was, it made me conscious about my arrogance. Often now, I observe myself, to see whether I’m sounding arrogant or behaving in an arrogant manner. Though this does not end the arrogance, as that is my nature, it certainly makes me conscious and aware. In fact, often in the middle of a conversation, I say, excuse me, am I sounding arrogant? Of course everybody says no! It does add a little amusement to the discussion and people find me humble in my arrogance.
Sneh and Stage Fright
Sneh, who is helping me with this website, had an example to share. She admitted that she suffers from stage fright. She gets nervous when she is talking to people professionally, or on stage. Having worked a lot in this area, I asked her one magic question- Was she afraid of making a fool of herself?
Bingo! That was it. The diagnosis was correct. On further discussion, she realised the reason for her shortcoming and committed that now on she was not going to care a damn about what people think. This is going to make a change in Sneh’s life. She will say whatever she says but more confidently.
The amusing part of this story is that Sneh is a very beautiful woman with an impressive personality. She probably has no mirror in her house or else she would see how good-looking she is on a physical level. What Sneh needs to learn is how to empathise with herself.
Decades ago I used to be a professional speaker at many events. I also conducted courses for Public Speaking with a well known academy. Many senior Rotarians who were about to become District Governors would consult me on their speeches. Other businessmen and professionals did too. This was the LCM of their problems. They all cared about being impressive rather than being expressive. I used to make them perform exercises making a fool of themselves. Like stand on a table and do a cabaret or some such nonsense, sometimes in groups. Those who followed my diktat, lost their stage fright in only a couple of serious sessions.
Envy or be Envied
Veena, an associate, shared her shortcoming of feeling envious. Because she has not been able to have a baby, she realised that she felt envious of others who did. She did not like that. It made her look down upon herself. I realised her predicament and spoke to her about the contents of the first half of this book, namely about destiny and thoughts. It was an hour-long discussion, but it seemed to have lifelong results. Veena was convinced that she had to change her way of thinking. She realised that she had a lot that others didn’t, so why can’t others have what she didn’t? She was laughing when she said, “I have such a lovely husband, and surely many women can’t be sure of that.” She spoke about her in-laws being supportive and helpful in every way. Again she felt that not many women were lucky enough. She said she enjoyed her job, and it seemed everything was in her favour except for one. At the end of the conversation, according to her, she needed to be envied, rather than her being the one who envied.
Learning to Empathise
Sneh admits that in her earlier years, whilst being empathetic towards sick people, she secretly felt that they were fussing. However when she herself was laid up in bed with a back problem, she learnt the value of empathy. Now, when she encounters someone who is unwell, it is easy for her to empathise with them and want to take care of them. A great learning at the age of 26.
Trust me when I say play the Empathy Card and win the Game of Cards
I once attended a four-day seminar by Professor George Hadden from the USA. It was a life- changing seminar. One of the exercises he made us practice several times was as follows:
We would sit at a round table for eight. One person would stand and seven others had to pay him or her compliments for one minute each. Gosh! Was that difficult! Initially we could only see the attributes of the person that were skin deep – clothes, body, jewellery, smile. But as these sessions progressed and the groups changed, we could look at more subtle qualities of that person and the compliments were more genuine. By the end of the fourth day we could feel the vibrations of that person and sense their qualities rather than see them . A kind of a ‘sixth sense’ experience. Changed my life!
I suddenly started believing that I should home in on people’s positivity and likeable attributes. I felt that was investment. I ignored their negative vibrations which I thought were expenditure. Fortunately, I can look at a person and sometimes even their photograph and sense their quality mix and that helps me in my business of life.
Gurudev was almost a king of empathy. The fact that he could accept a bunch of dodos like us and convert us into spiritualists took some doing! There were times, during that learning process, when I had selfish thoughts, silly thoughts and thoughts that established my immaturity. I can now see, in retrospect, how he would bear with us and motivate us, despite our failings. He would say we human beings make hundreds of mistakes a day, so learn how to forget and move on. He would say “malik tera bhala kare” (may the Consciousness Supreme do you good).
His empathy helped in my reconstruction. After meeting him and spending time with him, I unwittingly started comparing myself with him. Naturally I was a goner. The ‘cool dude’ that was me, now saw himself as raw, selfish, complex and unenviable. I had lost confidence in myself. I saw myself as a Fool. A well-manicured fool (thank god for small mercies). He, on the other hand, always said, “I know what you are and so will you. You have gyan (inner knowledge) and you will share it. You will write a book on it.”
I knew nothing. How could I even think of such a venture? These were just kind words, I thought.
He didn’t give up. “A horse gives birth to a horse,” he would say. “A son (disciple) of a Guru will be a Guru.” That made sense, but when? His empathy and confidence in us eventually did turn us around. By following his path we did realise our self-worth. I did write a book, in fact, more than just one. Sharing what I have learned with others has become a mission. But I never forget his encouragement. His empathy!