We all like to think we can show empathy.
We like to think we can hear someone’s narrative and ‘stand in their shoes’.
For many of us this might be true. We may have honed our awareness skills, fine tuned our listening skills, twizzled our emotional connection antennae. We are empathetic.
But are we? Really? To what extent is our ability to show empathy merely a product of our ability to find meaning and sense from our lives and relate it to another’s experience? Another person brought up in the same language, the same country or world area, the same belief system, the same society? Meaning and sense making may be intrinsically linked to our own life experience. So maybe empathy has geographic and cultural boundaries?
If you sat down with a Australian aboriginal, or with a Chinese gentleman aged 80, or a native Inuit child from the snowy north, would you be able to truly connect with the meaning in their lives? Could you read the signs in their faces? Connect with the significance in their tale? Understand their underlying value and belief systems?
Over recent years we have added emotional intelligence (EQ) to cognitive intelligence in the form of IQ. Terms we are all familiar with.
Now, cultural intelligence (CQ) is emerging as a third intelligence. Can we really be open to learning and meaning making when we meet another culture, another society, another upbringing? Or do we have to learn to do this? And without it, is empathy merely a hollow aspiration, or a distorted falsehood?