Empathetic People Are More Courageous

Does Being Empathetic Make You More Courageous?

Posted Aug 03, 2010

Does being empathetic promote assertiveness? With the exception of being aggressive other synonymous terms would include, being bold and being courageous. Take for example the ubiquitous advice a significant number of people with stage fright will typically receive to help curb their anxiety,

"Just picture everyone naked."

A more long winded explanation of this advice will be to help explain to the person struggling with anxiety, that everyone has their fair share of hopes, dreams and fears. Also that it is common for most people presenting before an audience to experience significant anxiety. The bottom line is, there is courage gained in understanding others. Which contradicts the myth that one's ability to care for and subsequently understand others is a sign of being submissive.

If one were to give this topic some thought, it is our lack of understanding for certain concepts, situations and people that give us a feeling of vulnerability. We tend to make assumptions about things we don't understand and this usually leads to us assuming the worst case scenario. Using the initial example given, if a person appearing on stage before a group of persons were primarily focused on understanding the needs of his or her audience, the prospects of developing a serious case of anxiety about the presentation would be significantly reduced. This would be because such a person would be able to develop a realistic understanding of what his or her limitations of the presentation would be and in turn focus of the strengths, regarding what he or she can deliver. When we have a keen understanding of a situation, our confidence sours, because we become keenly focused on playing to our strengths in that situation. When we have a keen understanding of others, we become keenly focused in playing to our strengths in communicating with them.

I was recently watching " American Greed", a show on the CNBC network. This particular episode was about a serial bank robber from the early nineties, who struck a number of local banks and was subsequently never caught. What I found interesting about this episode, was the safety protocol the banks in the area hard hit by this robber employed collectively. Instead of placing an armed guard at the door, they placed a greeter. A security analyst would later explain, that statistics have shown that armed guards and armed bank robbers make for a nasty and tragic situation. To prevent a tragedy and decrease the likely hood of a would be robber following through with a robbery, the greeter's job would be to greet every person who walks into the bank and make eye contact with them in the process. According to the security analyst, while this method was not a hundred percent successful in preventing bank robberies from taking place, it did significantly reduce their occurrences. Also, in the event of a bank robbery taking place, the process of a human being, making eye to eye contact and establishing communication with a would be robber at the door, eliminated any casualties.

In a previous post, I have written about how human beings are innately wired to be empathetic, this strategy taken by these banks in the early nineties to deter robberies and eliminate causalities during robberies, plays to the innate nature of human being to be empathetic. This means, that if human beings are indeed wired to be empathetic, then they are probably also wried to be receptive towards others being empathetic towards them. Another example would be this you tube video, at the bottom of this page, where a clerk speaks to a would be robber in a store, about her belief in her religion. While some might argue, that it was the topic of the conversation that deterred the robber, I strongly believe that it was the compassion in her voice that deterred the robber. In the video, he repeatedly apologizes to her, and then abruptly leaves the store, without following through with his intent to steal.

I am not suggesting that simply being nice to anyone who has displayed an intent to do you harm is simply enough, however there is mounting evidence that demonstrates that even a noteworthy effort to understand others, gives the person making the attempt an edge, and a sense of empowerment.