In an era where everyone collects the latest electronic devices, books prestigious vacations, and indulges in daily lattes or fancy dinners out, it can be difficult to find the perfect gift for our loved ones this holiday season. It can also feel very surreal or even unsettling to splurge in a time where there is so much sufferance and dissonance all around the world. So, when I started thinking about this upcoming holiday season, I wondered “what would be the best gift to offer someone near or far in these unusual times”.
I then started to reflect on my own experience, thinking about what was the one gift I received for which I am the most grateful, the one thing that has been most meaningful and impactful in my life, the one thing that was now part of me, my purpose, but most importantly, the one thing that kept on bringing joy to my life, every single day. The answer was instantaneous and clear. It was the gift of empathy.
Empathy is not only something that was given to me, but also something that surrounded me. I was born & raised in a small-town restaurant by the most hospitable & gracious mother – my mother WAS empathy. She had that power that made anyone feel like they were the only one in the room. She had that ability to zoom her attention on you, just like you were on stage and that the spotlight was shining directly on you. You felt the warmth and dedication while she was listening attentively to every single word you were saying, while also picking up on what you weren’t saying. Her soft gaze was kind and welcoming, easing you into sharing what was on your mind, and probably more than you expected. You would sense that no matter what you were sharing, either small or big, it all mattered to her. As if this wasn’t enough already, she had this ability to sense what you were feeling and always knew exactly what to say or do to sooth your pain, lift your spirit, or simply, create a unique moment with you. And this is the most wonderful gift I ever had the privilege to receive, this is the gift of empathy.
And this is an experience that we all crave. It’s that story you remember about that time someone made you feel seen, heard, and understood, made you feel special and amazing because they knew exactly what you needed at that specific moment. Empathy is not about grandiose gestures, but it’s in the little details and actions that leave the most lasting impressions.
I can still remember, sitting on the counter of the diner as a little girl, thinking how wonderful it felt to see how many lives my mother touched through simple, but meaningful interactions. I knew then what empathy was in my core but of course, it wasn’t something I could define per se. It wasn’t until I was studying psychology and working in a psychiatric clinic that I was finally able to put a name to my mothers’ superpower, the power of empathy. I also remember thinking how lucky I was to have received such a gift.
I knew then that this was a gift that was precious and one that I wanted to keep on giving, especially because far too often, I noticed that it wasn’t as present as it should have been. When I would ask people around me, “do you know what empathy means”? Most of the time I would see confused faces. I realized that fostering the power of empathy can seem like a very daunting endeavor for most of us as empathy can sound complex and abstract, explaining why empathy is not as widespread as expected. I knew deep down that this was a skill that we could all foster and after doing extensive research, I realized that empathy has five underlying skills. Once developed, this combination of skills is the path to master the power of empathy in a realistic and achievable way. This gift has guided so much of my life and now live to extending this amazing gift to others, the gift that feels better than any other gift.
Now I pass on this gift to you and invite you to spread the love and extend this wonderful gift to those around you over the holiday season and beyond with these simple but meaningful actions that will definitely leave a lasting impression:
- Lights: The next time that a loved one, a friend or even a colleague starts sharing something with you, drop everything, including and especially your phone. Make sure that this time is special and dedicated, focused on them, and only them, like you are shining that spotlight onto them. This will create a space where they will feel safe and feel like they are the most important person to you in that specific moment.
- Camera: Once you are giving them your undivided attention, simply listen, or, record. It sounds simple, but this is very challenging for most of us as we want to be heard and share our own ideas or solutions. By focusing on what they are saying, this will build trust and you will have a better understanding of what they really feel and need from you.
- Action! : Now that you have captured the essence of what they are sharing with you, you can now take action. As mentioned before, it is all about small gestures, such as saying “That sounds really difficult”, putting a hand on the other persons’ hand, but it is also an opportunity to ask them what they need from you in this moment. By being in the moment, you will show that you are genuinely interested and will find ways to make their day brighter and write the story that they will always remember.
Empathy is how we exchange, relate, & ultimately how we create genuine & meaningful connections with others. It is something that we all crave. So why not extend this wonderful gift to your loved ones, colleagues, and or anyone around you. No need to wait for a special occasion to demonstrate empathy towards others. Being completely in the moment with your loved ones, IS the occasion. Leave that wonderful legacy behind you, one that will last beyond the short-lived happiness of receiving a new sweater or box of chocolate. Create those heart-warming stories that your loved ones will cherish forever. And let’s all value and foster this wonderful skill every day, because the world clearly needs more empathy, now more than ever.
Wish you all a holiday season filled with meaningful connections!