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Sentence Sermons (Christian Inspiration) #44 --- Empathy

Updated on March 7, 2011

Quotations on Empathy & Understanding

The most essential skill of leadership is the ability to empathize or to understand others. The true leader has developed the ability to sense the moods and feelings of others. It is more then moods that the leader reads. The leader also is the one in any group who best understands the strengths and weaknesses of those others in the group. For this reason the most important thing a leader does is to listen. The first lesson a leader learns is to be a follower. St. Francis said it correctly: "Lord, grant that I may seek not so much to be understood as to understand." This image of the listening leader stands in sharp contrast to the typical model of leadership today which pictures the leader as one who never listens, but rather is always giving orders.

—Daniel B. McGee, The Southern Baptist Educator, Nashville, Tenn., July 1988.

Empathy is the desire and the ability to see and feel the world as another human soul sees and feels it.

Empathy is a tool just as a tennis racket is the tool of the game of tennis. Competence in tennis can be acquired only through constant practice with the tool of the game.

At first you will feel awkward and clumsy and most unnatural. It will be hard to even hit the ball, let alone control its speed, distance, and direction. But gradually, through persistence and painstaking effort, born of desire, you will acquire the ability to play tennis. We wonder "how to love."

We wonder how to "show forth love." It is so elusive, so abstract. There is so much theorizing about it and the need for it.

There is something very concrete in love. It is the tool of empathy. Empathy is the tennis racket of love. You can actually pick up this tool as you would a tennis racket and begin to practice with it. If you have sufficient desire and humility to wade through the awkward and unnatural period, you will gradually acquire confidence and the ability to truly understand other people as they understand themselves and their world.

Rather than continually to talk and reason, you will often be more effective listening to the feelings others have a difficult time trying to express. Try to see it as they see it and feel it as they feel it, and communicate that understanding until they truly feel understood. Once they feel understood, they will derive tremendous strength from such acceptance and affirmation. With that strength, many of their self-doubts and social fears will be removed. They will gradually acquire the internal desire and power to live their commitments. People fight to be accepted and understood. Accept them as they are and there will be no fight.

However, when we are only dealing with the symptom level, through logic without empathy, we often never get at their fears and the worries and doubts and confused feelings which lie underneath. To be strong with another without understanding is to be overbearing and not to show forth love.

Make no attempt to judge until you understand. Once you understand, you will feel no need to judge, for you will understand. Once they feel you understand, they will also feel a desire to understand. They will listen, and when they listen they will hear, and when they truly hear they will understand.

Then what is the heart of empathy? To listen with understanding.

What does listening entail? It entails a fundamental attitude of respect for another, of reverence for their own uniqueness and value, a willingness to allow them to be themselves. It takes real courage to listen, because in the process, if you sincerely listen, you might find yourself changing. It is much easier to categorize and stereotype and label and judge than to listen with understanding.

Remember it is more than practicing a technique. It is cultivating a technique. This great capacity is not easily developed, but it can be worked on, and you can be amazed how much success you will have in understanding if you will continually practice it.

—Stephen R. Covey, Irish Challenge, Finaghy, Ireland, Jan. 26, 1965.

Encouragement requires empathy. And what is empathy? Seeing the world from [the other person's] point of view, from [the other person's] perspective. You have to learn what's important to [him or her]. And then and only then can you give encouragement. ... What's deep down within the inner person--what draws that out? Kind words. Instead of being confrontational, come with words of love and words of kindness.

—Mike Clark, Build Your House on the Rock, Lake Charles, La., Feb. 3, 1998.

Empathy is basic in Christian theology. It is reflected in Jesus' coming to earth in the form of man. He came to be tempted as man was tempted in order that man might understand his lost condition. Thus man sees in Jesus the revelation of what he, through redemption, can become. The whole redemption story has its basis in the emphatic love of God. Jesus, knowing man and what was in that knowledge in His dealings with him.

Empathy--assuming the role of another--should help shape a leader's response to his follower's needs. A leader must learn to 'stand in their shoes' if his leadership is to be person centered. ...

It was said of Hezekiah: "And in every work that he began . . . he did it with all his heart, and prospered." (2 Chronicles 31:21.) If a leader is to guide his followers in a similar course, he must not only inform them of their responsibility, he must also direct their performance. Communication is not complete until a leader has elicited a response from his followers.

Empathy helps a leader look beyond administrative methodology and see people in their proper perspective. Leadership skills are in two basic areas--technical competence and human relations. Only a leader characterized by empathy can give proper balance to these categories. ...

Empathy helps a leader cultivate patience in his relationships. Growth can be a slow and painful process. Many times a leader attempts to achieve organizational goals without considering the gradual growth of individuals....

Understanding the slow maturity of some people requires empathy. A leader who cannot empathize tends to push ahead too rapidly--perhaps achieving immediate goals, but failing in the ultimate goal of spiritual development.

Empathy causes a leader to get all the facts before making conclusions and decisions. A leader cannot "stand in the other person's shoes" and jump to conclusions at the same time. The writer of Proverbs said: "He that answereth a matter before he heareth it, it is folly and shame unto him." (Proverbs 18:13.)

Empathy challenges a leader to find the facts. Even if the facts are not what he would like them to be, he is able to "sit where they sit" and counsel his followers from their point of view.

Empathy makes a leader willing to let is followers create. A taxi driver was the type who "whistled while he worked." His passenger, observing the driver's delight in his job, said: "You seem to enjoy your work. What do you like best about it?"

Without hesitation, the driver said: "I like to drive--and I like to know where I'm going."

His meaningful reply indicated the natural creative desires of all men--to do for themselves and to have worthy objectives. Restraint is a rare, but necessary, attribute of a leader. It is not easy to wait while a follower learns by doing and by making mistakes. But a leader who is able to assume the role of another realizes that sometimes the other person wants to "drive."

Mutual understanding, which characterizes an emphatic leader-follower relationship, results from shared experience. An emphathizing leader allows for sharing and executing courses of action. He devises an environment which permits his followers to work together creatively.

—Leroy Ford, Church Administration, Nashville, Tenn., February 1962.

Empathy goes beyond pity and sympathy and means putting yourself in someone else's place, projecting yourself in your imagination into someone else's situation and thereby being better able to help him. It shuts off cold and formal appraisals and unsympathetic criticisms, and tries to really understand the pressures which motivate and compel the conduct of others.

It seems that empathy is somewhat stronger than sympathy. This latter word could mean the outpouring of spontaneous and thoughtless concern without investigation. It might mean the alleviation for the time being of unhappy conditions. Empathy would undertake to analyze the situation, study the cause and then administer the cure. It is literally putting one's self in the other fellow's place, and doing unto him what we would have him do unto us .

[To] explain empathy, ... we might as well go on saying [the Golden Rule]: "Therefore, all things whatsoever ye would that men should do to you, do ye even so to them."

—Floyd Poe, Dallas Morning News, Dallas, Texas, Sept. 14, 1949.

Empathy discards sentimentalism, that unwholesome mawkishness or weepy emotionalism. ... It embraces sentiment with its artistic, warm depth of feeling and nobleness of thought. It calls upon understanding, that compound of comprehension, discernment, and logic.

—Bernice Hollister Stewart, Louisiana Schools, Baton Rouge, La., May 1959.

Understanding and wisdom come to those who cooperate with God. If we are to attain understanding, the first requirement is effort. ...

If we find so little understanding in the world, it may be due to the face that the effort is too great for its attainment. Wisdom is seasoned understanding. It takes long years of toil and effort and living to have understanding.

Understanding and acceptance go hand in hand. One usually finds that we accept others to the degree that we understand them. In the midst of social convulsions and turmoil we might want to keep this in mind. Could it be possible that ill will, hatred, prejudice and violence is due in large measure to our lack of understanding? The lack of understanding suggests that we are living far off from the presence of God.

If we are having trouble with other people, it might be that our main prayer should be for God to grant us greater understanding of those with whom we are having difficulty. The scriptures teach us that to know God is to love Him. Could that also be true of us mortal human beings?

A second requirement of understanding is perseverance. We cannot give up in our search for understanding. There is no grade in school where we can stop and say: I have no more need of understanding. Indeed there is no spot in life where we can sit back and be satisfied with the degree of our wisdom.

It has been said that the trouble with many people in trying times is that they stop trying. In this business of gaining understanding we must set out on a life-long journey. We cannot give up. Foremost we must be motivated by the love of God in our hearts.

The Christian concept of love is perhaps the highest concept that the world has ever known. We must discover its meaning and become motivated by its power. Paul was right when he suggested that we are helpless without the power of love.

Love is the only power which can enable us to hold on, have hope when there seems to be no hope, and search for understanding when it looks impossible.

—Harold L. Hawkins, Baptist Hospital Echo, Alexandria, La., July 1965.

Get understanding. It costs you nothing but a little self-discipline. The man who wanders out of the way of understanding remains in the congregation of the dead.

—Carlysle H. Holcomb, Dallas Morning News, Dallas, Texas, Nov. 2, 1951.

Understanding is to know the meaning of anything, having intelligence, sympathy and appreciation.

What many people really mean when they say "I didn't understand" is this, "I didn't give attention to what you were saying or doing." Attention is the act of applying the mental faculties to anything. It is readiness to receive orders. Upon this act depends the success of any

The lack of attention means largely the preoccupation of a person with his self-importance of self-interest. Understanding falls down when stubbornness takes over; stubbornness is a static emotion of self-willed people. There can be no understanding until they become pliable. There are none so dumb as those who do not want to understand. There are none so delightful as those who anticipate your needs and supply them.

Sympathy is the participation in the feelings of others. There can be no real understanding until you can develop the capacity to be affected by the joys or sufferings of others. That means, to develop such a capacity you have to have intelligence which is a mental endowment. ...

To have understanding you must develop the ability to rightly estimate. You must give adequate recognition of merit. You must cultivate the art of appreciation.

—Carlysle H. Holcomb, Dallas Morning News, Dallas, Texas, May 11, 1954.

Listening has a therapeutic value far beyond our imagination.

Effective listening demands relaxation, alertness and sympathy. This develops confidence in the mind of opening the flood gates of his soul and draining out the sludge.

If we wish to help along the way of a friend or neighbor the common burdens, on occasion we listen with our hearts in it. Upon hearing their story through, we then can speak with sympathy and understanding--to the end that we have made a contribution to the well being of all.

But beware! "They never taste who always drink; they always talk who never think."

James Russell Lowell brings it home to us in these words: "In general, those who have nothing to say contrive to spend the longest time in doing it."

In our listening, we cannot force our attitude upon the strained mind of a troubled friend. We do not contribute to calmness by our interrupting with pointed advice. If we wish to become a healing element, we create a comfortable atmosphere by lending a willing ear with a tender spirit.

—Carlysle H. Holcomb, Dallas Morning News, Dallas, Texas, Dec. 23, 1952.

Understanding is more than knowledge, but certainly includes it. It is often used synonymously with wisdom; however, in its fullest sense it seems to have elements not necessarily found in wisdom. It seems to embrace a greater involvement of the emotional tones of one’s personality. He who is slow to anger has great understanding. It includes the possession of knowledge, and the ability to use our knowledge (this we call wisdom), but it is more. It refers to our capacity for insight, the ability to see everything in its correct relationship to everything else.

This insight can be acquired. In fact, if we ever possess it we must acquire it. This is the idea presented by the following Divine declaration: “He who heeds admonition gains understanding.” Getting understanding demands such qualities of character as intellectual honesty and moral courage.

Understanding is essential to abundant living, and Inspiration calls it a fountain of life to him who has it.

—Bob Wear, Amarillo Daily News, Amarillo, Texas, Sept. 21, 1956.

Love's greatest passion springs from the fountain of understanding. The courage of the heart is that of understanding.

—George Matthew Adams, The Times-Picayune, New Orleans, La., Jan. 5, 1926.

The ability to understand can be learned just like any other art. Misunderstanding is born of fear and prejudice, and today it is a leprous growth which is eating at the foundation of civilization. Misunderstanding is too often the result of ignorance. Most people are like a lot of children on a merry-go-round, always traveling in circles. They want to be understood themselves, yet they allow their fears and prejudices to keep them from understanding their fellowmen.

—Robert Cummins, New York Times, New York, N.Y., Jan. 25, 1932.

Understanding is life's searchlight.

—W.A. MacKenzie, Florida Times-Union, Jacksonville, Fla., Dec. 18, 1922.

Understanding is the sandpaper which smooths life's rough places.

—W.A. MacKenzie, Florida Times-Union, Jacksonville, Fla., April 7, 1925.

The garden of life is fullest of flowers that use most the water of understanding.

—W.A. MacKenzie, Florida Times-Union, Jacksonville, Fla., May 18, 1925.

Understanding is one of life's leavens. It makes the soul rise above the temptation of petty prejudices and snarling criticisms.

—W.A. MacKenzie, The Leesburg Morning Commercial, Leesburg, Fla., Dec. 11, 1927.

To understand is to participate; insight is the highest form of help.

—Stephen B. Stanton, The Chicago Daily News, Chicago, Ill., Oct. 30, 1917.

All people have a deep need to be understood. To understand, it is necessary to live mentally on the level of others, and to feel with them. Thus only can one assuage another person's aloneness--the most painful void in man's life. What a comfort it is to feel that someone understands you--not only your weaknesses but your strengths--best of all, your potential strength. To be able to understand the feelings and concerns and problems of another, one must have the spirit of humility and be truly interested in the other person. Humility is the mark of a truly great personality; no small person was ever humble in spirit. The humble person acknowledges failure and success without being unduly cast down by the one or set up by the other. He treats criticism and flattery in a similar manner. He knows that human action is imperfect more often than not, and that he is responsible for his purpose but not altogether for the results--provided the purpose has been diligently and efficiently sought. People with true humility are usually kind, and everyone feels a binding affection for them.

Humility is a conspicuous trait in the character of a mature person. The really humble person believes in and serves others without thought or want of reward or recognition. His one purpose is unself-seeking service efficiently rendered.

In this understanding for others comes true maturity and growth for when we forgive others we are the ones that grow the most.

—D. Lewis Williams, The Key, Stuttgart, West Germany, May 5, 1967.

Understanding is the path that leads to forgiveness.

Great Falls Tribune, Great Falls, Mont., June 2, 1935.

How can men and nations as a whole love their neighbors as themselves? What can make the love binding and true? The answer to both of these questions is: Man must learn to know his neighbor before he can truly love him.

It is only when man fails to understand another or when one nation fails to know another that trouble and misunderstandings occur. ...

People condemned without evidence are always people condemned wrongly. With our increase in knowledge of our fellowmen friendship likewise increases. ...

It is indeed easy to love thy neighbor if an individual learns the prerequisite of first learning to know the neighbor. The teaching of the Savior will prove its worth and is entirely possible when men and women become broadminded, seek to open their eyes and minds to facts and conditions and seek to see things as they are. Man’s love for high neighbor will increase with his understanding and knowledge of him.

—Marvin J. Ashton, Millennial Star, London, England, Nov. 3, 1938.

One who loves has an understanding heart.

Phil Conley, The Clarion-Ledger, Jackson, Miss., April 6, 1948.

Love rests as the foundation of our Christian character and will stand upon the principle of the structure when it is completed. Love is the oil of gladness poured into the wounded heart. It is the sweet perfume that sweetens the whole life. It is the little leaven that leavens the whole lump. Love is the Christian's weapon. We would love our fellowmen more if we understood our fellowmen better. If we understand their trials, temptations and heartaches, we would love our fellowmen more.

—W. Marshall Craig, Dallas Morning News, Dallas, Texas, June 13, 1927.

Love is that divine sort of communication. It is conveyed with faith, confidence, trust, admiration, respect and understanding in a person to person relationship. We find it easiest to love those with whom we can most effectively communicate. Conversely, we are able to most effectively communicate with those persons whom we love; who have in us faith, confidence, trust, admiration, respect and understanding. Those who love the Lord most are those who can most effectively communicate with Him; and as a result they would not think of acting against His will. And if God has this same love for each of us, do we have any business denying it to one another?

It is apparent, however, that in order for us to experience pure love in our relationships with others, we must experience pure love in our personal relationships with ourselves. We must have confidence in ourselves; we must trust, admire, and respect ourselves. We must understand ourselves. One of the best ways to begin loving ourselves is to forgive ourselves. ... If we can't forgive ourselves, how can we expect the Lord to forgive us? If we keep harrowing up old mistakes and problems in our minds, this sort of preoccupation makes it all the easier to repeat them.

—W. Wayne Kimball, Jr., Northern States Mission, Chicago, Ill., August 1964.


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