Can you exercise empathy?

Certainly, you can.

Donating your time to listen to others dealt a bad hand in life? Exercising empathy.

Helping those others turn their situations around? Exercising empathy.

Understanding why someone is upset at you even when you haven’t done anything wrong? Exercising empathy.

Here’s the flip side: if you can exercise it, it also means that it can atrophy and get weaker. That means that coasting on good deeds from a decade ago, doesn’t mean that you are still the same person. The muscle can weaken.

Perhaps the internet is the worst place to see this, but it seems apparent that exercising empathy isn’t a practice in most people’s routine, as a result there is a deficit of it in the world.

If someone is in a bad place career-wise not seeing a way to provide for themselves or their family and no path out of their situation, what does a politician do? Call them a communist for wanting more social programs. That’s easy. No energy. No empathy require. It ignores where the current system failed them, or why they can’t see the opportunities that exist. It ignores having a conversation and giving them a different view to think about.

If someone disagrees with you, it’s easy to say “You don’t know what you’re talking about.” Of course, it’s possible that you don’t know what that person has studied, been involved in, or whose experience has shown them something that disagrees with your experience.

The amazing thing about being empathetic in all your engagements is that if you do it long enough, with enough energy and consistency, the world around you starts to shift into the kind of place you want it to be. Not the whole world, but your world. This is measured in years, not days. The opposite is to think that having no empathy is “efficient”. That it takes much less energy to insult someone for their beliefs and to think that doing so achieves what you want. That’s an entirely false worldview. We can see this in areas where there are riots. We can see this in polarized elections. We can see this in communities where group brawls are taking place in the streets. This isn’t “efficient”. This doesn’t get what anyone wants. It’s merely a momentary release of dissatisfaction in the most damaging way possible.

In certain areas online you’ll find people arguing about socialism vs. capitalism. Insulting each other in terrible ways. I won’t link to it because I don’t want to promote it. At the core of the debate of both of these systems is empathy and who is in charge. Whichever has the most empathy wins. If the majority of business owners in a capitalist system use empathy to share profits fairly with employees who can then buy homes, have healthcare, and save for retirement or invest in their own business down the line, then there is a feeling of faith in that system. If not, then an alternative becomes more desirable.

You can take this methodology to nearly any socioeconomic issue and the same will be true. Where there is empathy there is faith. Where there is a lack of it, there is distrust. As a society, when looking at our empathy muscle, we are at our weakest. It’s time to start working out. That takes each person exercising our muscle to understand each other. To withhold initial judgment. To have a conversation in uncomfortable areas. To take a slow path to changing your world.

It’s inside of everyone to have empathy and make the world better, but like working out, it’s best to start small.

What’s something you can do today to make a person’s day just a little better?