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To Change a Mind, You Must First Understand the Heart

Push past your own limited perspective so you can help others grow, too.

Until you get outside your comfort zone and consider alternative ideas, you won’t really “know” what you “know” or even know “why” you believe what you believe. You need to look beyond your own interests and consider the limitations of others’ knowing and others’ beliefs.

In essence, empathy lets you see both sides of an issue and find a balance between two extremes – it’s not always easy to do because you have to move from your own frame of reference, where there are familiarity and comfort, and imagine a very different perspective on an experience or belief that you value as “truth.” It is when we hold immutable assumptions about others and their ideas that we box ourselves into corners. Assumptions are normal, of course, as we base our perspectives on the world in which we function. However, we must practice letting go of assumptions so that we can facilitate our own growth.

A Numbers Game? 4-3-2-1 Countdown to Breaking Down Difficult Discussions

4: Just Four Basic Emotions Make Empathy Easy

There are only four basic emotions – mad, sad, scared, and glad. You’ve felt them all yourself, so you can definitely offer empathy to anyone experiencing any of these things. Empathy is about understanding what another person is feeling – and although we may not have experienced exactly what another person is undergoing, we can definitely “get” what they’re feeling if we let ourselves step into their shoes.

Some people think that because they haven’t experienced exactly what another person is experiencing, that they might not be able to help. Empathy, though, is about having experienced the same emotions that someone is feeling – if not the same precipitating event.

Empathy is about seeing the world as if you were in the shoes of that other person.

While there are only four basic emotions, there are tons of other combinations that we can also understand. Glad plus scared is likely anxiety. A combo of sad and mad often reflect hurt feelings. Just because you haven’t lived another’s life doesn’t mean you cannot see the world through that person’s eyes. This is where you challenge yourself to go beyond your own view to imagine holding another’s view.

3: Fatal Errors to Avoid

Not getting all of the facts without all the facts, your decision won’t be as strong as it would if you’d looked at the issue from multiple perspectives.

Running with your heart without consulting with your head – “Follow your heart,” but if you don’t check in with your head, you may be running towards disaster. Don’t just assume your beliefs are correct – test your beliefs to make sure they stand up to scrutiny.

Refusing to admit you are wrong – mistakes aren’t a bad thing, but not admitting you’ve made a mistake is where things can fall apart. Be skeptical of your assumptions – other perspectives may be more useful than our own sometimes.

2: Rules of Engagement

There are two rules of engagement that we should follow when we engage in a difficult discussion related to significant issues or strongly held beliefs.

1 – Remember that we are all much more alike than we are different. Basic values are generally shared (safety, decent job and pay, hanging out with friends, caring about family, making the world a better place)

2 – Seek common ground. Common ground is what we are all standing on and struggling for – respect others’ viewpoints. Use diverse opinions as a chance to stretch your own way of looking at things. Challenge yourself to explore what you think and why you think the way you do. Agree to disagree, if you must.

1: Universal Truth

Together, we “are” the world, and empathy cements the bond. Empathy with others will bridge gaps between diverse groups who hold divergent ideas. Educate yourself – find the edges of your knowledge and push past these limits.

Working Together for Change

  1. Respect that everyone has their own beliefs and we don’t all have to agree on what those are. Agreeing to disagree is a way to show that you value relationships over proving that you are “right.”
  2. Stretch yourself to see the world from another’s perspective. Empathy can show us how to help others as well as keep us from hurting others.
  3. Don’t insult another’s beliefs – that is equivalent to insulting that person and you don’t foster change by inflicting harm.
  4. Seek the common ground and work together to address the bigger issues at hand.
  5. If a new idea seems threatening, immerse yourself in learning more about it. Exposure to what frightens you is a great way to get over your fear.
  6. Don’t be afraid to admit what you don’t know. Remember that the purpose of education is not to confirm what you already know. It’s about testing your knowledge, expanding your knowledge, and finding out where your limits are so that you can push beyond them.
  7. Don’t strap yourself in too tightly by staying in your comfort zone. How else will you ever imagine being something that you have not yet become if you don’t let yourself see yourself or the world from a different perspective?

Responding to People who Challenge your Views

  1. Don’t “over-personalize” an issue – even when it feels like it’s a moral or ethical issue that should be “clear” to others.
  2. Don’t resort to the bullying or name-calling behaviors that we see too often in the media today.
  3. Use the facts about issues to touch another’s emotions – don’t just resort to catastrophizing or villainizing ideas or positions. And help them gain empathy by providing examples that resonate with that individual. “Big Issues” feel more personal when they are brought down to the “average person’s” experiences.
  4. Listen to the other person’s side – seek to understand their position and the reasons they have taken the position that they have.
  5. Check-in with the person to make sure you understand what they are saying. Saying something like, “What I hear you saying is . . . .” can be really helpful.
  6. Empathize with others – put yourself in their position so that you can better understand their feelings. This models the use of empathy and can help others see how empathy works. Until you understand where they are coming from, you’ll have difficulty trying to help them see another perspective.