Feeling understood in that therapist's office taught me that human beings are not doomed to be alone—and empathy is life's connective tissue. If you have a romantic partner, he or she will someday believe that you are entirely wrong about something, and if you can see the problem from your partner's point of view, you'll be able to get through that conflict without smoldering in the corner or splitting up. If you work with someone you despise (and who despises you back), and you try to understand why that person dislikes you, then you stand a chance of not hating every minute with her at the office. If you live in a world that you would like to see less divided by ethnic, economic, and religious strife, you'll find that attempting to comprehend the needs of your sworn enemies is a prerequisite to any meaningful action you can take.

Empathy will also require you to get past rationalizations and admit wrongdoing. For about a decade after I started working to be more empathetic, I told myself that I hadn't hurt Lisa too badly, because she never told me I had. But Lachmann points out that the final insult of being treated with a lack of empathy is that the hurt person usually can't complain. "If you say, 'That was such an unempathetic thing to say,' it can easily be heard as, 'Feel sorry for me.' And no one wants to be pathetic." So most people don't say anything, Lachmann says, and relationships "are often ruptured and ruined."


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