The importance of being empathetic
This week I ran across a quote that will forever be a favorite: “Courage is the foundation of integrity.” I love this quote not only for its plain simplicity, but also because it surpasses all of the political entangling any significant or momentous thought currently. Nearly all of us can agree. I searched for its origin, but the quote is ascribed to a number of people. If you have a definitive source, please let me know.
With all humility I want to add to the thought captured in our quote. While courage may be the foundation of our integrity, it is equally true empathy is the foundation of courage. When we see others in a situation we can imagine ourselves suffering, we are far more likely to step forward and cry foul, lend a hand or otherwise provide assistance. Sometimes the courage is exhibited in a gut-wrenching drama, like those modeled by Medal of Honor recipients and sometimes by quiet little gestures by individuals who place themselves at risk to heal, to counsel and to otherwise serve.
I have written a lot about the virtue we call empathy. But a stroll through the comments section of almost any Facebook or political article in any journal anywhere is enough to cause the strongest of us to want to give up on humanity, to declare empathy an outmoded and silly impulse.
But here’s what I really believe. Cynicism breeds the same. The more we expose ourselves to the worst of humanity, unfortunately, the worse we all become. We risk burning a hole in our very soul if we make a steady diet of what passes for public commentary. Yet, and remember this, we are daily entrusted with the well-being of those around us and they of us. Let’s hope we are not depending on the 24 Hour News Cycle nor internet commentators for the energy to carry out our humanity.
Empathy comes into play every day in the travel profession. When we are empathetic we understand our clients needs, their fears, their travel ambitions. Though we may be experienced travelers, we can remember how fearful travel can make us: the concerns over leaving home, family and entering into situations for which we may be unprepared even if it is only the fear of being exposed as a novice. New food, new customs, new people, the dangers of the unfamiliar were once our own travel companions. So too our travel clients.
It is easy to suggest empathy when speaking of clients, so here is an experiment: sometime today, seek to be empathetic to someone with whom you have no sympathy. Look up the difference between the terms if you are not familiar. If, for a moment, you can hold another’s fear close, I suspect you will be better at everything you do.
Like travel consulting.