I’d like to dwell on such a phenomenon as empathy or, in other words, the ability to undarstand and share the feelings of another. It’s the powerful emotion that halts violent and cruel behaviour and urges us to treat others kindly and fairly.
First of all, let’s go into deeper understanding of this phenomenon. The English word is derived from the Ancient Greek word empatheia (physical affection, passion, partiality) which comes from en (in, at) and pathos (passion or suffering).
Empathy has many different definitions that encompass a broad range of emotional states, including caring for other people and having a desire to help them; experiencing emotions that match another person's emotions; discerning what another person is thinking or feeling; and making less distinct the differences between the self and the other. It’s the ability to step into the shoes of another person, aiming to understand their feelings and perspectives, and to use that understanding to guide our actions.
Compassion and sympathy are two terms that many associate with empathy, but all three of these terms are unique. Compassion is an emotion we feel when others are in need, which motivates us to help them. Sympathy is a feeling of care and understanding for someone in need. Both, sympathy and compassion are about objects and are bound in rational thought whereas empathy is about subjects and is bound in emotions and feelings.
In unpacking the nature of empathy, it won’t be out of place to single out some expressions of it. The simpliest display of empathy is the hug. Another thing that promotes empathy is laughter. It wires our brains together. People that laugh together indwell each other. It connects spirit.
There is one more form of empathy, it can be put like so called “mirror”. In conversation, we subconsciously mimick the other person as a way of sharing, thus indwelling the other person. You move your hand in a certain way and I mirror that. In that way we "feel" each other - we participate in one another's feelings - we "read" each other's minds. This is empathy at work.
No one will deny that empathy is recognized as a universal value because it deals with human nature. We are born with this capacity. However, there are some barriers that impeed the power of understanding others. Some religions generate a sharp distinction between the faithful and everyone else. This contributes to our sense of separation from one another, and even contradicts some of the better religious teachings (to love your brother as yourself, do unto others only as you would like to be done unto you). Besides, people better empathize with members of the same religion because they feel a sense of community based on their shared beliefs. Politics creates similar social priorities. The dominant political system in the world today encourages nationalism and ethnocentrism. This is unfortunately perpetuated by mass media, which serves goals of profitability rather than understanding.
So, it seems unreasonable to distinguish between nations or cultures and the degree of importance they attach to empathy. But we can draw another line here. It’s about gender differences. We all know the stereotype: Women are better than men at taking other people’s perspectives. Surveys of men and women suggest there’s some truth to that assumption. But it’s not clear if women’s empathy is the result of nature or nurture.
However, one thing remains veritable. Almost all humans, regardless of sex, have the basic ability to cultivate empathy.
As a way of conclusion, I’d like to say that empathy is one of the eternal human values, which has been in existence since time immemorial. Not without reason, the phenomenon of empathy is reflected in Greec philosophy, it reveals itself in this or that form in all religions and cultures and provokes generations of scientists and thinkers to expand the idea.