Engaging empathy can be painful
Recently, my younger brother lost his construction business after 10 years of bleeding his soul into the company.
I felt his heartache as if it were my own. I shed tears with him, but I had lost nothing personally. Our brains synced, and I felt his pain and fear for the future. I experienced the feelings of another human being, and it connected us in a powerful way.
You have felt this. Remember a moment when a true friend or family member suffered a serious loss or disappointment. What did you feel looking on?
You felt the same pain, and in fact, the same neural centers in both brains were firing messages of suffering. You felt empathy.
Mirror neurons in the brain produce empathy
Mirror neurons are the key to our empathic superpower, and they can intimately connect us to the readers of our blogs.
The experiences, thankfully, do not have to be painful either. Mirror neurons were first discovered in Parma, Italy in 1992 when researchers found the exact same neurons fired whether a chimp watched a person eating an apple or the chimp actually ate the apple. Observing fired the same brain regions as acting. To the mind, there is little difference between acting and watching someone else act.
Remarkable. Witnessing, or even imagining, the actions and emotions of another person triggers the same neurons we use when we perform the action or feel the emotion. We are hardwired to feel the empathy which connects us to other people on a neurological level.
This is how I felt the pain of my brother as a real experience, as if it were happening to me. The same effect is achieved in film, fiction, and everyday life - when you take the time to notice people, real or fictional, and feel their experience. You don't even have to try because it happens automatically.
Putting empathy into words
the action of understanding, being aware of, being sensitive to, and vicariously experiencing the feelings, thoughts, and experience of another of either the past or present without having the feelings, thoughts, and experience fully communicated in an objectively explicit manner.
And though we began with tragedy, empathy includes all human emotions, actions and experiences. You don't want to always depress people with your posts, but through your carefully crafted language, you can make them feel whatever you want - joy, excitement, motivation, seriousness, sadness, and elation. Just imagine if you harness those emotions in your reader. How effective will your writing be?
The great poet Percy Bysshe Shelley recognized this unique power in writing to magnify both the writer and the reader:
A man, to be greatly good, must imagine intensely and comprehensively; he must put himself in the place of another and many others; the pains and pleasures of his species must become his own. The great instrument of moral good is the imagination.
― Percy Bysshe Shelley
Empathic blogging nuts and bolts
- Nurture relationships with real people in your target audience. They are everywhere around you, and the best way to understand their feelings is by getting to know them. You can take that understanding and apply it in your blog writing.
- Read novels and books. Studies prove that novels create feelings of empathy for characters and that the changes in your brain remain even after you have finished. Reading is a great way to exercise your empathic skills.
- Devour blogs and comment powerfully. You make friendships in the blogging community and connect empathically with other writers. This is a great way to network and strengthen your writing.
- Develop intimate, virtual relationships through social media. I am surprised by how many friendships I have developed on social media, and I know some friends there better than I know people I am in contact with everyday. you learn more about hopes, dreams, and needs through such connections.
- Create a vibrant community around your blog. Encourage and respond to comments. This is the most direct way you can know your audience. Speak in a friendly, open tone, and invite readers to comment on a specific prompt.
- Spend time meditating on people you care about. You will know them better as a result. This doesn't have to be a major deal. Meditating is simply relaxing your mind and becoming aware of your thoughts in an objective way. You can easily accomplish this at your desk.
- As you write, try to visualize your blog readers. Now that you have a better understanding of the real people that make up your audience, write specifically to them. Imagine them looking over your shoulder and reading/reacting as you write. Writing that is not created for a specific audience falls flat.
- Use the power of story and narrative to engage empathic emotions. Stories engage the mirror neurons on the brain, and you can generate whatever feeling you need for your writing. Keep them brief, specific, and potent.
- Be authentic and genuine. While you are writing for an audience, you can still be yourself. Be real. If you try to fake your way through a post, your readers will smell it. Authenticity establishes trust with your audience.
- Keep in mind that you are doing more than just writing: you are connecting with other humans. In doing so, you have power and responsibility. Never abuse their trust or manipulate their emotions without cause. Also remember that invoking empathy is only one aspect of powerful writing.
Being conscious of the power of empathy and how it works in the brain will empower your writing and the readers who are blessed to find a kind and thoughtful individual writing to them. They will connect with you, and relationships will develop.
For the big picture of mirror neurons, watch this video
- See what your brain lacks if you don't read fiction
- What you must know about the science of mind viruses and cultural evolution
- How to make blogging a mindful practice
Have you tried using empathy in your writing? What were the results?