Extreme Empathy: Taking Empathy to the Next Level

When working with groups and organizations, I often talk about NVC practices that I find highly effective and also consistent with developments in positive psychology, including engaging others and increasing accountability through intrinsic motivation (shared values and what we want to do, rather than have to do), noticing the visceral response of our bodies and what brings us the most joy and makes us most come to life, gratitude as a powerful way to re-energize and to reinforce behaviors,  and rather than criticizing, blaming, or demanding, focusing on understanding and empathic connection. I continue to be amazed how empathy in itself— just being with what is–is transformative.

I’m delighted  to see how these practices are more and more becoming part of mainstream, popular culture–even seen now in a new, popular way of organizing and decluttering.  Marie Kondo, who’s written several best selling books and is considered a  decluttering”guru,”  takes a very NVC approach to decluttering. In effect, it’s a radical kind of empathy since, in effect, empathy for objects and things.

Rather than nagging to get people to care about their objects and environment, she encourages an empathic connection with objects: if we have empathy, for example, for all the “hard work” our sox do to take care of our feet, we will be more inspired to want to take care of them, clean them, and put them away (so they can rest between uses). “Socks ‘take a brutal beating in their daily work, trapped between your foot and your shoe, enduring pressure and friction to protect your precious feet,… The time they spend in your drawer is their only chance to rest.’”

And when deciding what to keep and what to let go of when clearing things out, she focuses on joy: which objects actually give us joy and delight? And the way you know is by listening to your body: “‘…your body is very honest with you,.. Your body will respond if the book sparks joy.’” What’s interesting to me is that, when coaching clients, this is a practice I recommend when making any major decision: imagine each scenario and see how your body responds. If there is hesitation or restriction, I recommend exploring what that’s about, to get more clarity and self-connection.

She also talks about how that when the decluttering process is complete, people usually experience calmness and peace. From an NVC point of view, it’s clear that (even while in some ways could be seen as mundane) that decluttering can meet many different needs for people–for order, clarity, spaciousness, beauty, and effectiveness, relief, and competency, among others.

What’s fascinating for me is that, in my experience, when we’re in conflict with others, we’re often, in effect, relating to them as if they’re things–as static, monolithic, lacking complexity, and to be moved at our will (via demands). Kondo challenges us by exploring what could be seen as radical empathy–empathic connection with objects–while, also of course, fostering greater self-connection and compassion for ourselves.

For me, all this is inspiring—a further example of how what NVC has been teaching for a half century now is effective, life-affirming and becoming increasingly a part of how people see each other–our objects, even–and the world. How much empathy can we find–for others and ourselves?

Exercise: More Joy!

The next time you’re making a decision, imagine different option and see which ones bring you most to life, and bring the most joy. If you notice restriction or hesitation, check in with yourself to see what that’s connected to and how it may be addressed. I believe our bodies communicate with us, via sensations, and have valuable information to share!

Empathy Practice

A) For fun and to practice your NVC skills, choose an object in your house—for example, maybe a pot in your kitchen. What gratitude might you have for the pot (appreciation and needs met)?

B) What gratitude do you have for others in your life, and yourself?

C) Looking at the picture above of the person with piles of papers on their desk, how do you feel? What needs come up for you? Now imagine the desk clear and organized. How do you feel now? How does your body respond?

One thought on “Extreme Empathy: Taking Empathy to the Next Level

  1. Pingback: Extreme Empathy: Taking Empathy to the Next Level | Inform Inspire Change

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