19: EMPATHY PLUS
Welcome to the 19th post in our Journey in Dialog. In Post 04, we referenced empathy and how empathy requires transparency. In this post, we dig more deeply.
When we relate to other people empathetically, something good happens that can be healing, even transformational. This healing goodness happens between friends, lovers, therapists, and even between people with long-standing disagreements.
When the neurons in our brains connect to create empathy, we are rewarded. In fact, just making eye contact can release Oxytocin, the hormone that creates warm feelings from close connections. Thus empathy has a positive impact on our humanity.
Empathy energizes transformational dialog; however, it is wise to practice caution. The rewards that result from being empathetic can make us vulnerable, and our vulnerability can be manipulated to do us harm. Our caring empathy can even compromise our sense of duty. In addition, we can be guilty of bias when empathy occurs more readily towards others who seem familiar and non-threatening to us.
Therefore, head and heart need to partner in our expressions of empathy. Dialog can help. When empathy opens the gate, dialog can engage us through questioning, listening, and reflection. Dialog can also surface perspective.
In what ways might empathetic dialog be theological? For starters, empathetic dialog can lead to love, which includes mutual respect, caring, sharing, understanding, and uniting. When we listen to one another with patience, see in one another qualities that we admire, know that we can count on one another and even go the extra mile for one another, we are acting like God intended for us to act.
The result is communication becomes easier. We can be more open and trusting. Tough matters are dealt with in a more caring way. We don’t have to spend a lot of time and energy in defense of open or hidden criticisms. We can take greater risks together because there is no fear of being betrayed.
Martin Buber said that in our dialogic encounters, we might glimpse God. We asked Donald Dawe, a seminary professor of theology, to describe the theology implicit in dialog. He said dialog is the means by which God’s Spirit opens us to truth.
• The deeper we go in dialog, the more we will discover.
• The more we discover, the more likely we will find liberating Truth.
Empathy energizes dialog. When that dialog becomes more than an exchange of words, it has the potential to be an exchange of meaning. When that level of dialog stimulates a new sense of identity and purpose as well as relationships that bond and stretch us, perhaps God’s Spirit is opening us to liberating Truth.
© 2018 The Living Dialog™ Ministries
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