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I was watching a TED talk by MIT scientist Rebecca Saxe on how the human mind is programmed to feel for others. In fact, there is a part of the brain that controls our ability to empathize. Development of this part of the brain is shown to start in young children, all the way up to young adults. This got me thinking; how does one develop this part of the brain in a healthy way? How do we connect with others? As we were taught in kindergarten, it is through communication. Listening, a part of the communication exchange, can be the gateway to developing empathy.
In a world where we are bombarded with social networking tools reducing us to character quotas and static impressions of our day, it is even more necessary to consciously take time to listen and empathize with the people who matter in our lives. If we don’t, isolation and detachment will continue to disconnect us from belonging to the collective, which as humans is a natural and necessary predilection.
With the advancement of technology mobilizing every part of our lives, we can choose who and what enters our psyche. We choose what phone calls to answer. We choose which Facebook messages to reciprocate. Technology has made us extremely efficient. But at what expense? If we decide that efficiency is one of the most important values, perhaps it is possible when choosing to perk an ear to what we care to hear and nothing else, we miss out on ideas and deepening of relationships, which best occur happenstance. Technology encourages a measured life and the likelihood of chance encounters is hard to come by.
That said, communication technology could prove to be a productive tool for rekindling lost relationships, even if they do seem superficial. But I am left wondering about the fulfillment level of such relationships. I operate with the assumption that as a society we should move towards a higher level of awareness. When I apply this to my relationships, communicating constructively, mainly through listening, is an important way for me to deepen my connections.
To be better listeners, we are often forced to put our own feelings aside to better understand the person’s state of mind. We are put in a position to comprehend the underlying emotions in the content of the message, in hopes of giving appropriate feedback. We look for non-verbal communication, which helps us understand the unsaid. We become at the disposal of our loved ones for a short snippet of time and in that moment, we learn to get out of own heads and connect with someone whose well-being matters to us. We allow them the space to vent and give them guidance from what we know. In this process, we define our role in the collective good, following suit with the designations in our brain, which gives us the space to empathize.