Positive Relationships: Value of Empathy and Compassion

By Sandeep Kulshrestha

A friend of mine is an entrepreneur and many a times struggling with her challenges to pay the monthly bills. She and her husband are workshop facilitators on business related content. There was a family event when she was invited by a close relative, in another city, of which she was certain that she would attend few months back. However, a few days before the event, there was a business meeting which came up for both of them (she, and her husband) to attend and it was related to taking their venture to the next level. Also, the air fare for attending the family event was steep as it was a holiday season. My friend is high on self-esteem and she even doesn’t share her financial challenges with anyone. Finally, she sent her best wishes for the event and decided not to go. This infuriated her relatives and she got direct and rude messages from her sister and her daughter. My friend is a soft spoken person who has never deliberately used any foul language in her life but this reaction made her reassess her priorities for her relatives.
The question is why people become over sensitive and react irrationally at times when it comes to their close family connections. The same friend of mine had taken a fortnight off in the past and helped her relatives in the time of their need, when a close family member was ailing with a deadly disease. She doesn’t want to reiterate this fact to her relatives with a fear that they may take that in a negative stride. Anyhow, there is not a quick answer here. Perhaps people don’t do much self analysis and build perceptions on the recent happenings. If someone is not responding to me or visiting me, I will surely think that he/she would be occupied with something more important. In this case, my friend’s relative would presumably a reactive person, who was bereft of empathy and compassion or maybe because of a recent bad experience, such relatives would have become reactive. Initially my friend felt that for at least for next few months, she would avoid any connection with few of her close relatives. I could sense the hurt from her voice. But then I asked her to recall moments where she had good time with them in the past. Coupled with Loving Kindness Meditation and positive interventions, she could accept her relatives as they were. 
As a model in Positive Psychology, Positive Relationships bring lasting happiness and aid in long term well-being. Empathy is one important aspect of Building positive relationships. When you are empathetic, you are expanding your perceptions by putting yourself in someone else’s shoes. When you accept that the other individual may have some of his/her challenges, you will not mind their lack of response.
Being compassionate is surely difficult. There are tools like the “Loving Kindness Meditation” which can surely be of assistance to people who like new types of meditation. Compassion and Empathy can bring an element of trust. Compassion doesn’t mean that one needs to be full of soothing thoughts about someone all the time. It just means that whenever possible, you are expanding your worldview without tagging the baggage of negative emotions of the past or the present. If you are compassionate, you have many things to gain including your good health. Being compassionate may even increase our lifespan.
A bit of positive self analysis is useful to become empathetic and compassionate and it is simple. Just recall all good moments including trips together, a wonderful conversation, a gift someone brought for you etc. and write it down (or just feel it, as part of your meditation). Once we let positive emotions take over us, our negative emotion of hatred can be leveraged into emotions of love, gratitude, compassion and empathy, besides others.
A dear friend of mine, while writing on Facebook said that we can use a “Not to do list” sometimes for a change. Can it be like this? - “I will not let the baggage of my negativity influence my today” or “I will not think negatively about this person today”. These are just examples. It is not very easy to develop positive relationships and be consistent with them, but it is worth a try to create your best life!