In a hypothetical situation, most people would say that they will respect other people’s point of view even if they don’t agree with it or don’t understand it.
In practice, however, this is hardly so. We have a hard time understanding why others don’t share our point of view, specially when those points of view influence laws, political decisions, or challenge the way we live or think. It can affect our mood, even provoke angry reactions and harsh comments.
Not convinced? An example: What is your position regarding gun control? What do you think of the opposite position? How about same-sex marriage? What do you think of people that don’t share your point of view?
Empathy is usually associated with sharing and relating to the feelings of others. But it doesn’t stop there. Empathy is at the very center of understanding other people’s points of view.
When we have trouble understanding someone else, or why somebody acts the way she does, consider what Seth Godin writes about Empathy:
Empathy doesn’t involve feeling sorry for someone. It is our honest answer to the question, why did they do what they did?” (…)
The useful answer is rarely, “because they’re stupid.” Or even, “because they’re evil.” In fact, most of the time, people with similar information, similar beliefs and similar apparent choices will choose similar actions. So if you want to know why someone does what they do, start with what they know, what they believe and where they came from.
Learning to employ empathy to better understand others, and to be better understood ourselves is a skill worth acquiring.