Finally, it’s the fifth in a five-part series on Strengths Finder, a phenomenal resource from Gallup. Our culture has grown obsessed with fixing flaws, but Strengths Finder is all about emphasizing your innate strengths. I’ve already blogged about my #1 strength, INTELLECTION, my #2 strength, HARMONY, my #3 strength, INPUT, and my #4 strength, RESPONSIBILITY. Now, the final strength in my arsenal: EMPATHY.
Before starting this Strengths Finder series, I naturally thought I’d count-down my strengths — start at #5 and gradually build the anticipation of my NUMBER ONE STRENGTH.
But my #1 strength was INTELLECTION. A word that’s not even real. It just means I think a lot. That’s it. Anticlimactic, much?
Once I got my Strengths Finder results, I knew I wouldn’t be counting down, but counting up. Would finish with the strength that resonated more deeply than all the others, regardless of its “official” place on my top-5 hierarchy.
On the heels of my #4 strength where I wrote about my responsibility in relationships, it’s only appropriate that I close this Strengths Finder series with the weightiest strength of all. The “strength” I’ve often assumed more of a “curse.”
The strength — curse — of empathy.
EMPATHY: What It Is
Those strong in empathy can “sense the feelings of other people.” They possess an “instinctive ability to understand.”
Basically, I’m one of those people who asks how you’re doing, hears you say “I’m fine” as you blink and break gaze, and I know you’re not.
People often confuse the words “empathy” with “sympathy.” They are, indeed, different things. Feeling pity toward others — that’s sympathy. Unless you’re Adolf Hitler or Spock from Star Trek, most of us naturally experiences sympathy toward our fellow man.
Empathy, however moves beyond simple pity — and it doesn’t come as naturally. Apparently, I have a “gift.” A “strength.”
I have the ability to feel what you feel, even though we just shook hands for the first time.
A couple months ago, I experienced a relational phenomenon unlike any other in 26 years. A phenomenon that drained me night after night for about a week.
Without any notice, people started approaching me with their problems. People in person, people online, people on the phone. People, people, people flocking to me of all the secluded people. They needed someone to talk to, confess to, cry with.
I was actually doing quite great at the time — had recently moved to a new apartment with a dear friend and was having an otherwise successful summer. And yet I grew overwhelmed.
I so deeply felt the pain of others, straining my own soul to the point of exhaustion.
EMPATHY: I Don’t Want This
I’ve often wondered if I was ever presented with a velvety red button which, when pressed, would eradicate my ability to feel, whether I’d actually push said button.
I know I’d stare at it for a long time. Think. I like thinking, after all. I’d weigh all the pros and cons and let my palm hover over the button and graze its soft alluring surface as I closed my eyes and imagined pushing it and gasping and then feeling nothing —
EMPATHY: I Want This
I could have never written Struggle Central without this strength of empathy. Would have never been able to put into words the feelings one feels when he’s forced to move 800 miles from home as an introverted pre-teen. When his best friend dies on a living room couch. When he drives across the country to work at a camp completely unsuited for his myriad hidden struggles.
Writing Struggle Central required me to “re-feel” a lot of excruciating stuff. That first draft particularly wasn’t pleasant. And yet even the pain of writing this book has been redeemed.
Five months later, and I’m still receiving emails and messages about Struggle Central. My life, my story. Precious correspondences from people — people I’ve met and know, people I’ve never met and once never knew — who have resonated with my struggles. Thanked me. Told me their story.
As much as I’d love to push the red button that would forever drain my tear ducts and steady my racing heart, I couldn’t do it. I just couldn’t.
Couldn’t trash this powerful capacity to connect with hurting humanity.
EMPATHY: Moving Forward
Gallup’s “action plan” for empathy was filled with suggestions of relational initiative: to clue others in when someone else is having a hard time, to deliberately encourage, to mentor.
I’ve actually considered mentoring foster kids ever since my foster youth camp this summer. Funny that that lovely suggestion would resurface in this series.
To close, I felt so much more connected to this strength than the prior four combined. The following Strengths Finder paragraph essentially describes me in every way:
Chances are good that you might play games for the pure joy of them. You may do what you can to help others enjoy themselves, too. Perhaps having fun is more important to you than winning. Because of your strengths, you usually know when you have or have not won the approval of a person or a group. You harbor a deep-seated yearning to belong. You are delighted when many individuals gladly welcome you into their lives. It’s very likely that you are attuned to the full gamut of human feelings … You are pleased when people entrust you with their deepest feelings, thoughts, or needs. Often you anticipate what they will say before they find the exact words to express themselves.
That line in the middle still hasn’t detached from my gut: you harbor a deep-seated yearning to belong.
Gosh, do I.
And yet I’m learning it’s not all about me and my needs. This year particularly, I’ve experienced community and relationships in deeper, more meaningful ways than ever before lived. Crazy good conversations aplenty from all sides of this country, continent, and planet.
There’s been abundant joy; there’s been prevalent pain. Joy and pain from my life; joy and pain felt from others’.
Ultimately, I just want to belong; yes, I do. But there’s something else. Something that weighs on me now more than ever.
I desperately want you to belong, too.
EMPATHY QUIZ: On a scale from 3-17, 3 being the one who scoffs at others during the first 5 minutes of UP and 17 being the one who needs a week of emotional preparation to watch Homeward Bound, where do you fall? Do you enjoy it when people approach you with their problems? Or do you wish they didn’t?
Finally…how tempted have you ever been to push that red button?