True Empathy Requires Intelligence And Integrity

You are not what I feel.

Child Meditating on Swing (artist unknown)

Young children see, hear, feel, and absorb much more than we know or tend to give them credit for, especially on an emotional level. Before a certain age, however, they do not have the ability to process this information intellectually. It is as if there is a direct transfer from our feelings to theirs. They sense when we are happy, sad, frustrated, or scared and these emotions become their own. In this way, all of the information we give them begins to shape them not only emotionally, but also intellectually, and physical before they can even talk.

As they grow up and their intellects begin to develop, much of our job as parents is to teach our children how to discern between their feelings and the feelings of others, even our own. We must teach them that what we are feeling or experiencing emotionally from day to day is not necessarily because of them or directed at them and that they do not need to feel the way we feel or change the way they feel in order to please us. We must teach them that their actions or inactions are not the reason for all of our feelings and that our emotions should not be the sole reason for their action or inaction.

We must teach our children empathy, but empathy is not simply the ability to feel what others feel. Empathy also requires us to intelligently process those feelings. Emotional boundaries, the ability to separate feelings from thought and action are the foundation of maturity. Empathy, for it to be useful to us and the people around us, requires that we maintain a dividing line between the feelings of others and our own so that we are not in a constant state of tension, being pushed and pulled by the emotional currents of our surroundings. Empathy requires integrity. Integrity allows us to transform our empathy into sympathy and our sympathy into action.

“As in life, so too in budo. As in budo, so too in life.”

-Robert Van Valkenburgh is co-founder of Taikyoku Mind & Body and Kogen Dojo where he teaches Taikyoku Budo and Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu

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