The other day I was playing badminton with a neighbour and he said he was a bit tired and wanted to stop after two games. I wondered what had happened to him as he normally had a good stamina. On inquiry, he informed that he had fasted the previous evening and hence was tired.
He further clarified that he was not fasting for any religious reasons. When further asked for the reasons, he hesitatingly said that he was periodically feeding children in an ashram and hence was fasting on that day. What really struck me is the reason for his fasting. He said he started fasting on every Thursday when the Ashram owner told him that it was not enough to feed the kids but may be good “To feel the hunger” by fasting once a week.
“Feeling the hunger” was a powerful statement and it got stuck in my mind. “Empathy” is not only a word in english but an experiential learning for everyone. Like they say, you need to put yourself in someone else’s shoes to experience what they feel in any situation.
At every stage of our life, we find people sympathising with us but rarely you come across people who empathise with you. The difference between sympathy and empathy is the phenomenon of “feeling the hunger”
As a child when you miss out a rank in the class by a few marks or lose a match for the school there will be many who sympathise with you but rarely some who can empathise. The ability to silently put yourself in the other person’s position is easier said than done.
As you grow into an adolescence and want to rebel at everything in life, everyone around you is critical as they tend to look at it only as a deviant behaviour. However, if one can experience what an adolescent goes through the story would be different. You may lend a listening ear or comfort the person that it is natural to rebel.
Then even as adults you find it irritating when someone gives you advise which they don’t follow. It may be easier to advice others than to lead by example. Leaders in organisations are not respected because they lack empathy.
Today’s generation is not looking for sympathy at all. They are touched by an empathetic leader. In times of crisis nobody looks for advice from the ivory tower. People expect leaders to be on the ground, smell the earth and work along.
Leadership is all about “ feeling the hunger”. It is all about empathy. We need to evolve our ability to put ourselves in other person’s position and experience life as they do. Once we are able to do that, our approach to life and living would be different.
As in the photo above, even while we cut a cake to celebrate a birthday, this neighbour skipped the cake to feel the hunger since it was a Thursday.
A simple off the cuff remark when someone said you need “to feel the hunger” made me think how much I still need to learn on this front. Learning is a life long journey and we possibly learn more as we listen more.
Let our learning blossom forever.
S Ramesh Shankar
16th August 2020