Empathy – represents the single most powerful concept in the English language. Yet it is surprisingly the least understood by most people.
For years l studied Ethics and only thought l understood it. It was only after l attended a crash course at Hillsborough Community College in Ybor city, Florida to become a state licensed private security guard that l felt l truly understood it. Because it was here that l was first introduced to something called: “Verbal Judo”, by George J. Thompson.
Thompson was the author of a book ” Verbal Judo – The Gentle Art of Persuasion. ” He was also the founder and president of the Verbal Judo Institute before his death in 2011 (Peace be upon him).
Thompson taught us that empathy has Latin and Greek roots: Em, from the Latin means “to see through” and pathy, from the Greek means “the eye of the other.” So to empathize means “to understand, to see through the eyes of another.”
In speaking about empathy, Thompson said: “It is the most crucial skill in both physical and verbal judo.”
In other words empathy is the quality of standing in another’s shoes and understanding where he’s coming from.
“If you take a moment to think as another might be thinking”, he said ” then speak with his perspective in mind, you can gain immediate rapport.”
I have now come to realize that Thompson was absolutely correct in everything that he had to say. Those skills he taught us in his verbal judo course would also help me become a better Peer Support Specialist within the mental health industry working directly with people with SMI (Serious Mental Illness) diagnosis.
For example, l served for a time as Chairman of the Clinic Advisory Council (CAC) at my clinic in Phoenix, Arizona and during one of our meetings the issue was brought up by a client receiving services here that he was homeless sleeping on the street.
It was clear he was very upset and emotional, and in a room full of people, including our site administrator and clinic director l dealt with this man’s issues in a way that caught everyone off guard.
Instead of the telling him to be “patient” in this situation, or to calm down – l agreed with him that this was totally “unacceptable” to begin with and that there was absolutely no excuse for it whatsoever!
I went on to blame others, including his case manger and our housing specialist for failing him in this situation (which of course, was true).
Unfortunately, no one else in the room really understood what l was doing, least of all the clinic director and site administrator. Later l was criticised for my handling of this situation and not using “recovery language.”
Now admittedly l did go a little too far when l suggested that case mangers were not doing their jobs and in fact hiding behind locked doors at our clinic and not availing themselves to meet clients in desperate circumstances who come in to see them for help in these kind of problems, because they are too busy or whatever?
Needless to say – l would be eventually replaced on the CAC by others more conducive to their ideal of someone more professional and positive in their approach and handling of such issues.
So it actually wound up costing me in terms of my position.
The good news is that l talked with this man later who thanked me for “understanding” his situation. Something he said he desperately needed to hear from somebody at the clinic.
Today, l am happy to report this man got housing and is no longer sleeping on the street.
While nobody at the management level of my clinic understood what l was doing at the time, primarily because they lacked empathy – l take solace in the fact l was able to relate to him on a purely human level, while others stood by and would have easily discount what he had to say as being argumentative, disruptive and rude.
What they failed to understand was that a principle was involved here relating to empathy – the one quality they all lacked in this situation.
See video: Empathy – Stand in Someone Else’s shoes http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zh55e6U_XPM
See video: Empathy – under the surface http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AZ-pU7ozt3g
See video: Empathy what is it? http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-_z6tJV5uLI