Monday, March 19th, 2018
“Empathy is the skill or ability to tap into our own experiences in order to connect with an experience someone else is relating to us. Empathy is communicating that incredibly healing message of: You are not alone.” – Brene Brown
I’ve been thinking a lot about this idea lately as one of my dear friends has been going through a bit of a rough time these last few weeks. To try and help him, I called regularly to check in and would fill him in on my life in hopes of distracting him. I also sent him some fun gifts to brighten his mood. And while he always expressed his gratitude, I felt I wasn’t making as much of an impact as I’d hoped. I spoke to him today and he said that, more than anything, he just needs someone to listen and say, “I get it. I’ve been there. I’m here with you.” We all come at other people’s struggles in our own unique way. I was trying to distract and amuse when really, all he needed was my ear.
The simple act of empathic listening and reacting is one of the greatest gifts you can give another person. Listening for the sole purpose of being there for another human being is priceless and very soul affirming for everyone involved. Empathy is a selfless act. It’s not about sharing your story. It’s about being open enough to listen to another person’s story and hold the space for them to tell it. Such a beautiful concept and practice.
Now, I also think you must practice empathy with the characters you work on. I often times have actors telling me that they are judging the characters they play which makes it hard to connect and portray them in an honest way. Perhaps, the character is a typical villain or someone with an off-kilter moral compass. When you come up against this, I implore you to lead with empathy. Remember, every “bad guy” is the “good guy” in their own story. Find something about the character to truly empathize with. For example, the character Walter White from Breaking Bad does some horrific things but if you look to his backstory, you can find a multitude of reasons to empathize with him. That is the key to character: Having an open heart and really listening to the character’s deep needs and desires will bring you straight to the soul of a character and you will have no choice but to feel love for them, despite their actions.
So, in life and on the stage or screen, lead with empathy… for others and also for yourself!