EMPATHY and Why this Kolaveri, Kolaveri, Kolaveri di? – Wouldn’t the skill of EMPATHY help Dhanush’s character understand his girl friend’s murderous rage; …
Empathy, a very, very misunderstood word. Of course, most patis (husbands) are misunderstood people! But empathy is a little more misunderstood.
Empathy is not sympathy; it is not compassion; it is not pity; it is not 'ayyo papa! (expression denoting sympathy – oh, poor man/woman!)'.
Empathy, as the classic definition says, is putting yourself in the other person's shoes,…
…trying to understand what is going on in his mind, which includes, starting from what has been his upbringing, his indoctrination, his value system…
…coming right down to the present moment and asking yourself, "Why does this person say this?"
What does he mean when he makes such a statement? What does his body language mean when he shows this type of behaviour?
Or, what is the consequence or what is the reason behind his outburst or his crying or his showing some different expression and things of that sort?
The more we develop this skill, it's basically a skill – EMPATHY is a skill whereby we can become better judges of what is going on in the mind of the other person.
Now, practically speaking, if you want to build up this skill called EMPATHY, what I would suggest to you is before you try to even make an attempt to understand other people…
…make an attempt to understand yourself better. You will get an idea if you do this little exercise, right now or any time when you feel like it.
Stop whatever you are doing periodically and ask yourself two questions in quick succession. The first question is: What am I thinking right now?
Very easy to answer! I was thinking that I am hungry and I probably have to go and have food or I was thinking about tomorrow's commitment or…
…or I was thinking that it was very hot; the weather is becoming bad; whatever it is. So you'll be able to answer that immediately.
Ask yourself the second question: What am I feeling right now? What is the emotion going on in my mind right now?
You'll be amazed! Most of us cannot answer that question. Or we answer it in a very, very nonchalant way by saying, 'I'm feeling good'.
I am feeling okay, I am feeling nice…which is not true at all. There is some emotion going on, I'm feeling restless. Slightly restless, not very much.
I am not feeling angry but I am feeling a little irritated with so and so's behaviour.
I am not really worried as such but a little bit of anxiety is there with regard to something that I've to, might have to face tomorrow.
Now when you do this exercise, 10 times, 20 times, mark out how many times you could immediately come out…
…with the answer and a correct answer mind you – specific emotion and feeling.
No harm if you couldn't do it, because then the next step would be – start practising. It just comes out of practice.
Do it 10 times, do it 100 times, do it 500 times, take your time, any time of the day.
You don't have to stop your work, you only have to stop yourself mentally.
You may be doing some routine thing like driving a vehicle, or doing cooking in the kitchen,…
…or you know just sitting and waiting for somebody or whatever it is. Physically you continue doing what you're doing.
Mentally stop yourself and ask this question.
Now the more you practice this, the more you will be able to understand your own emotions.
That is where you have taken the first step.
So when you know your own emotion then ask yourself the second question – the why part of it.
Why am I getting irritated when so and so is making a noise?
Why did I feel disappointed when such and such a friend did not call me? Go into the reasons behind it.
And, you will be amazed if you really practice and if you really put your mind to it; the reason will slowly surface.
You will probably recall that even earlier I was let down by a very good friend of mine…
… and slowly slowly that person stopped responding and I didn't even realize till one fine day I found that he actually is not my friend anymore.
So this time when something very small happened: this friend had promised and today morning he's going to call me up…
…and the whole morning is getting over and his call has not come.
I'm developing an anxiety – "Am I headed the same way? Is this relationship also going to get spoilt?"
Whereas, he may not have called me for a simple reason that he forgot, or he's overslept in the morning,…
…or, his friend came over and he got very busy with something else.
It could be nothing to do with me. But you see how our indoctrination, our past experiences play a role.
So once you start connecting up these two, then venture into the waters outside.
Then you say, "Okay, now I'm going to learn what is going on in the mind of another person."
Easiest way is to start with people whom you know fairly well but not too well.
Because, remember that people whom you think you're closest to, they are the people who play games with you.
If you ever had the occasion to read that book called, "Games People Play", you will understand that with most of our second line of people,…
…or people with whom we're not very deeply and very closely, emotionally attached – we're very open and frank.
I'm feeling hungry, could I've something to eat please?
But if I am feeling hungry, I've come back from outside, and my wife is busy sitting and watching TV …
… I don't tell her straight away: I'm feeling hungry, why don't you switch off the TV and make some food for me?
You know what I do: Ha, something interesting going on in TV, is it?
Hmm, yeah, one of those serials.
Yeah, but those serials are more important to you than anything else, no? Go ahead, go ahead, watch.
No, why, what's particular about it?
Yeah, to you TV is far more important in life than anything else including your own family.
Nothing of that sort, I'm just sitting and watching TV.
Yes, yes, I know. I suppose in the morning also you're busy?
Yeah, my friend had come over and you know I was chatting up with her.
Oh, I see, your friends are more important than family.
Now she's getting really perturbed: What's happening? What are you trying to say?
Huh…Do you realize what time it is and how hungry I am?…
…You know that I haven't had proper breakfast, I rushed off early in the morning!
Oh, my god! Why didn't you tell me that?
Why should I tell you? If you love me, you should've known that!
No, nowhere in the deepest of psychology books it is written that a wife who loves her husband, should know the content of his stomach and how hungry he is.
Yet, this is what we presume and that's why I'm cautioning you – don't do it with people who are very close to you.
You can use this skill of empathy, once you've learnt the skill of empathy – you can use it to improve even your personal relationship.
But, let's start with people whom you know at a peripheral level and if they happen to be your friends,
or something of that sort, you can do a simple exercise like what you did for yourself.
You tell the person: Can you tell me what are you thinking right now? The person will say: This is what I'm thinking.
Then ask that person: What are you feeling right now? And before he answers, you make a mental note,…
I think this person is happy, or I think this person is showing some anxiety, or I think this friend is irritated right now.
Put a label to the emotions in your own mind and then ask him: What are you feeling right now?
And see how close you were to the correct answer. Just start off practising like this as I told you with friends,…
…with acquaintances, with colleagues or something of that sort.
And if the person is close enough to you, you can even bounce it back to him.
When he says that: I'm feeling anxious; you can tell him that: I noticed an irritation on your face…
…Is it only anxiety or is it irritation? And the person says: Yes, now that you say it, I realized that I'm irritated.
See, you're helping that friend of yours also. Or the person may say: No, I'm not irritated at all….
…It is just that anxiety type of thing. Was I showing irritation on my face?
So it helps him to understand that without being irritated he was giving off the signal as though he's irritated.
So he better be careful on that front and it gives you an indication that what I thought of as irritation was actually anxiety.
That's how we start off! Now let me be very very clear that empathy or building up this skill called empathy…
…takes immense amount of practice. It's so easy to say: Yes, I understand what people are going through…
…I'm a person who's always been interested in human welfare; Yeah, I know so and so must be upset,..
…so and so is this, or that… It doesn't work that way. Let me give you a real life example.
Here was this very eminent surgeon, a cancer surgeon. There was one old lady, who was suffering from throat cancer.
And it had become so bad that doctors had given up hope.
At one point they said: No, this cancer cannot be treated and that's the end of her life…
…Within a few days or few weeks she's going to pass away.
Somebody approached this cancer surgeon, and took the patient to him. He said: Yes, there is a chance…
…I can may be do a very intricate surgery and remove the entire cancer. Would you like to take a chance?
Yes, that was the last chance, no other hope. Go ahead!
He did the surgery successfully. Her life was saved. She's sent off to the post op and then to the ward.
Few days later, this doctor is taking his rounds in the hospital, he walks into her room.
And this lady is lying on the bed, she's got all these needles stuck in her hand, she cannot get up,…
…her throat is bandaged, she cannot speak, but the moment she saw the doctor her eyes lit up.
She gave a big smile and grabbed a pad, writing pad from her table and started scribbling away furiously.
Doctor, you've come to see me, I'm so happy to see you. I would've liked to personally come and meet you…
…As soon as I'm up and about, I think that I owe my life to you. Without you I would've been dead today…
…You're the one who saved my life and has given me a fresh lease of life. I'm so thankful to you.
She wrote all that and handed it over to the doctor. Doctor read it, smiled back at her, turned the page…
…and wrote: It is god who saves lives. I'm only doing my duty. But I'm very happy that your entire cancer has been removed,…
…and you get a fresh lease of life, and now you can have a healthy and long life, god bless you, and…
…have a good healthy and long life. See you. And gave it back to her. Lady's looking very puzzled at the pad,…
…at the doctor, then she turns the 3rd page and writes: Doctor, I can hear.
The doctor did not have to write and give back. He knows he's an eminent cancer surgeon,…
…he knows that the throat surgery has done nothing to her hearing, she can't speak so she's writing and giving,
…he can talk back to her, no? He didn't have to take the trouble of writing and handing it back to her.
This is what I mean by saying that if you truly want to empathise, you can't put yourself in the shoes of the other person,
…till you remove your own. Now this man is taking his rounds wearing the shoes of an eminent cancer surgeon, an oncologist.
So, he doesn't even understand what happens to a patient. He knows what happens to the cancer,…
…he knows it so beautifully, he can do wonders, he can do miracles and save lives, but he doesn't understand…
…a simple thing like a person who's got, you know who's recovering from throat cancer,…
…can only communicate one way, she has to write and people have to talk back to her.
So that is why I've this very very strong suggestion that PLEASE, KEEP REMOVING YOUR SHOES.
Stop this labelling thing. Oh, this one, yes, I know, that one,…
…yes that is how that person will behave. I had a young man coming to me once from another city and…
…saying that I have just moved into this city and I want to be, you know, I'm a very trained and highly qualified counsellor. I've got this string of degrees and now that…
…I've moved into this city, I was told that you are one of the people in this field and I would like your help to get some employment or assignment or something of…
…that sort. I was interested. Nice, young man with very good qualifications. I was. I started talking to him.
At one point he suddenly said: Dr Ali, I can counsel alcoholics very well. I said: Thank you.
I'll let you know when there is something and I sent him off. You know why? The very fact that this man…
… makes a bombastic statement saying: I can counsel alcoholics very well. Now alcoholics are not people
with two horns and four hands and six legs. An alcoholic is a human being exactly like you and me who…
…has a problem because he has been drinking alcohol and he has become dependent on it. That's it! So what do you mean by saying…
…I can counsel alcoholics and putting a label on that person and looking down at him – this…
…disgusting person who is an alcoholic. No empathy. I don't want you to succumb…
…to that sort of thing as you go on deeper and deeper into the field of counselling. And to be able to refrain from doing that…
…you have to constantly and continuously keep improving on this skill of empathy.
Every now and then ask yourself: What is this person saying or behaving or his action, even an action which a person comes and tells you.
Let's say this man comes and tells you that: You know I'm very angry with my wife, she doesn't cooperate…
…with me, she's not nice to me, and this, this, this and you know things have become so bad, the only way I can…
…get work done from her is to hit her. Very easy to be…
…holier than thou and this and that and say hey, you go about hitting your wife and you expect her to cooperate and be nice…
…to you. It doesn't work that way, right? No. Stop.
Empathise with that person. Why do you think this person is hitting his…
…wife? Go back all the way. May be he came from that type of background where…
…his father used to hit his mother regularly. If that was not bad enough…
…he had an experience once which is deeply embedded in his mind. From small…
…age he saw his father beating up his mother and used to get very scared and go and scrounge in one corner. One…
…fine day, when he was may be 10 or 12 years old he felt that I'm big enough and macho enough and I'm going to…

…protect my mother. The angel, the great pillar of support, the…
…one person whom I love more than anybody else in this whole world; she's getting beaten up by her husband, I'm going to protect her.
So the next night when the father came and was about to hit his…
…wife, this young fellow came in between and said: Hey, you don't touch my mother, okay?
Do you know what the mother did? Make a guess.
The mother probably told the little fellow: Don't you dare talk to your father like that.
Who are you to come in between? Move off! Maybe, she gave him a slap and said move out. What is this got to do with you?
Now his whole value system took a topsy turvy. Who's the…
…good guy and who's the bad guy? My mother whom I love, adore, respect,…
…she's the one who slapped me and said, move out from here. So probably, a husband hitting…
…a wife, is the done thing. Somewhere it is recorded. Ten years, 20 years later,…
…he's now hitting his wife. And for you and me it is very easy to condemn this fellow and say look at this fellow,…
…he's an educated chap, he's this this this, and he should've been civilized, etc. Now that is where you're…
…there you know examination or test of empathy comes in. Could you take the trouble?
Could you actually say, there has to be some reason why this person is violent with his own wife?
I'm going to find that out. Once you find that out it becomes so much easier to counsel the…
…person, understand the person, support the person, even support his wife if she comes to you for…
…counselling, to make her understand what's probably going on in her husband's mind, she may be very frustrated, very angry that…
…you know I love him so much, I care for him, I look after all his needs, and yet why does he has to come and hit me and this…
…sort of things. So even with her you can help. But as I said, you've…
…to understand empathy, and you also have to differentiate between empathy and sympathy.
We very often confuse. See I'll give it to you in a very simple example.
You see a beggar apparentely very poor wearing torn…
…clothes, and no footwear, and carrying one tin bowl in his hand,…
…and dishevelled hair and grown beard, etc. And he comes to you with a very…
…pathetic face and says: Amma, please give me something.
Sympathy would make you open your purse, take out some money and give it to him.
Empathy would mean you look at that person from top to toe…
…and ask yourself: Is he handicapped? Is he disabled? Is he incapable…
…of earning his own bread or something of that sort? Do I…
…take pity on him and give him some money or am I actually making matters…
…worse by encouraging him to be a beggar when he can actually earn a livelihood for himself?
All these decisions can come if you've built up the skill of being able to empathise.
To look at him maybe, and form a picture. To see his body language,…
…see his words form another picture. Maybe spend half a minute by asking him 2 or 3 questions and…
…see his response and you form a picture. And if your conclusion is I…
…do not want to give this person even a single rupee, you can walk off from there. You're doing him a favour.
Because otherwise he may have taken that money and drunk himself further and gone and beaten up his…
…wife. You would have been instrumental in that. So this is what I mean. There was a time when…
…I was doing training for police officers. And when I was talking to the commissioner…
…about the modules and this and that, I said: I would like to take a session on empathy. And this gentleman started…
…laughing. He said: Doctor Ali, if police officers start empathising with the criminals,…
…we had it. I said: No, you're mistaken. It is only when a police officer…
…can empathise with the criminal, he knows whether to beat him up, whether to lock him up or whether to let him go.
Empathy does not mean sympathy. It does not mean that just because he's taking interest…
…and finding out what was his background, why he did this, did he acutally do this crime? Whatever it is, after that he…
…follows the rules. In fact, he can follow rules better because of empathy rather than a policeman who either…
…becomes very cruel and goes on beating everybody or becomes so sympathetic that he starts letting go off…
…everybody. I'll give you a very touching real life example.
There was this couple, who were friends of mine. The husband was a brilliant engineer.
And he started doing, you know he set up a small-scale industry and he had a few gadgets which he…
…had invented at that time which had tremendous potential to do very well. But…
…although he was a very good technologist, he was a very poor businessman. So somehow or the other…
…running a small-scale industry with all its complications was too much for him. Years and years and…
…years he struggled. He was living in a 2-room rented house. He could only send his…

…children to a very mediocre school. He used to go around on a small moped, motorcycle. He…

…could not give his wife or family any luxuries of life. And he went on for years like that. One fine day,…
…he made a breakthrough. He got some organisation who took over the marketing and said: Okay, we're going to give you this and you just…
…concentrate on the manufacturing and we'll see to it that this product moves. And it started moving.
Within a few months, things were really looking up after 10, 12 years…
…of marriage. This wife could actually feel the fruits of her husband's labour…
…and she said: Now I can look forward to a better quality of life. And tragedy struck. One fine day,…
…in the workshop itself this man just collapsed with a heart failure. By the time they took him to…
…hospital, he was no more. It was very very shocking. Two small schoolgoing…
…children. No savings at all. This lady is a housewife. She has no means of…
…earning and no career and here, this is what has happened. Anyway, you know what happens in these circumstances,…
…relatives, neighbours, friends, everybody comes to sympathise with her. All those ceremonies and this and that went over.
I waited till everything was over and everybody had moved off. And then one afternoon I went to her…
…house to give whatever solace I could. Her old mother…
…was there who's very old and you know partially deaf. Children had gone to school. She was…
…sitting quietly. I went there and I sat down over there. They'd put up a big…
…photograph of the late husband with a garland on it. As I was making…
…small talk, I noticed that you know she was looking towards that…

…photograph. So I just made a statement to, you know, try to empathise with her.

I made a statment and I said: You must be feeling very sad and very sorry that he passed away.
She turned around like this and gave me a very stern look and said: Ali, you really…
…want to know what I feel? I said: Yes. She said: I feel extremely…
… angry at this man. How dare he leave me and go away at a time like this?
I'm not feeling sad. I'm not missing him. I'm feeling angry with this…
…bloody son of a so and so, so and so, and she started using expletives. She got…
…so out of control. She went and pulled that photograph and banged it down on the ground and she said: What does he think of…
…himself leaving me like this with two small children? I stood by him throughout the worst period…
…of his life, and here he's happily sitting up there in heaven; everybody was coming and telling me, your husband has gone to heaven and this and…
…that. I'm here in hell right now. It was a shocking revelation.
Anyway, I stood with her. I spent 1 hour with her. She just kept on crying, crying, crying. By the time…
…the children turned up, then she recovered, and she made a cup of tea and I had the tea and then I spoke to the children and left.
Next morning at 6 o'clock she called me up. She said: You know something Ali, this was the first…
…night after he died that I slept. I don't know what you did to me. I don't know what it was.
But so much that was choking me inside came out. And,…
…let me tell you, what I told you yesterday was only an outburst. I genuinely love…
…him. I genuinely miss him and I'm going to bring up these children of his who are as intelligent as him and…
…and may be fulfill those dreams which he has not been able to fulfill. Today, I made up my mind.
I'll go to the factory and I'll start rebuilding that thing. Now why did this happen?
It's not my success story or anything of that sort. It's a success story of empathy.
Are you able to be open to be able to understand? And whenever in doubt, explore.
That's the best way a counsellor can do. Are you feeling sad? Are you feeling…
…angry? Are you feeling extremely jealous of this person?
Are you feeling thrilled with whatever you got? Or, are you anxious what the future will hold for you?
The more you keep exploring whether it is with a counsellee, or whether with a friend, or whether…
…it's with a colleague, the more you keep exploring, people feel happy. One thing I would like…
…to tell you about empathy is even if you used the wrong emotion, as I said this…
…person is feeling anxious, and you said: Are you feeling irritated? The person will correct…
…you and say: No, I'm not feeling irritated. I'm feeling anxious. But he'll not feel bad that you used a wrong word.
He'll feel nice that you made an attempt to understand him. And secondly, he'll feel nice…
…that you helped him to explore. There may be even occasions where a person after some time says: Hey,…
…I didn't realise that I'm feeling irritated. Now, that you mentioned it, yes, I was all the time thinking that it's only worry and anxiety.
But now that you mention it, I realise that it is irritation. So you are helping the…
…person to help himself in terms of understanding his own emotions, provided you…
…take this trouble of going deeper and deeper right from as I told you his basics of…
…you know his background, his upbringing, and whatever experiences of life, coming right down…
…to, what is affecting him now and what he's feeling about it and why he's feeling about it,…
…reflect it back to the person and then step back and say: Now that you know what…
… you're feeling, and what your aspirations, and what your frustrations are – go ahead, and take the steps.
I'm there with you to back you up, whenever you need me, I'm just one phone call away.
That's it. PRACTICE, PRACTICE, PRACTICE. Thank you.

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