Can you read my mind? Then how do you know what I’m feeling? By interpreting my actions or expressions? What if you’re wrong? Or are you imagining how you’d feel in the same situation? But we might have drastically different reactions. For example, if I see a nice big slice of cheesecake, I might smile and nod a little. You’d think, “Wow, this guy likes what he sees!”. But what I’m really thinking is, “Ha, look how disgusting that is!! That pie-shaped-cake encrusted in crushed graham-cracker is so gross that I have to laugh!!” Or maybe you see me receiving a brand-new sweater for Christmas and think “Wow, this guy is gonna love that, I know I would!”. But it turns out that I HATE sweaters!
But Rich, what about empathy being so important, and blah blah blah? Who says? Empathy is NOT actually feeling someone else’s feelings — it’s either guesswork or projection — and either way, it’s not necessarily what the other person is feeling. I see people in my family guessing wrong all the time. I see myself guessing wrong too. And what’s worse, is that we react based on our incorrect assumptions.
As a formerly negative person, I would always interpret people’s reactions as negative. “Oh he’s upset now!”, “Oh man, she didn’t like that at all, just look at her face!”, “Yikes! That’s gotta feel bad!”. I’d project negativity onto everything. And if I imagined myself in the situation, of course that other person must be having a terrible time — just like I would. “Oh god, people are singing Happy Birthday in the middle of a crowded restaurant to that poor guy, he must be completely embarrasted and hating his life right now!!!” That’s empathy?? No, that’s bullshit.
So what I’m saying, is stop trying to imagine what everyone else is feeling and then reacting based on a fantasy. If you want to know what someone is feeling, you gotta get down and dirty and really get in there. And people won’t just tell you what they’re feeling by the way, you have to gain their trust in that moment and work your way in. That takes actual effort, not “empathy”. Empathy is the easy no-effort route to understanding others — it’s superficial nonsense.
To truly understand others, you have to stop pretending to know what they’re feeling — instead, you have to approach with an open-mind, closed-mouth, and open-ears. And unless you’re willing to do that, then accept that you have no idea what another person is feeling. Empathy: No and Never