Conversations In The Garden: On Empathy


“Most of us are experts at solving other people’s problems, but we generally solve them in terms of our own and the advice we give is seldom for other people but for ourselves.”

~Nan Fairbrother




Last week I talked about self-compassion, and how we must start there to increase love in our lives.  It is easier said than done, as we usually can find empathy for others over ourselves.  But I think it is harder to find empathy at all these days.  So much judgment and criticism in the world and especially on social media.



DSCN9798Sure we feel ‘sorry for’ people we see on the news, or that we may know who have a serious illness, lost a family member or a job.  We have all manner of feeling ‘sorry for’ people.  But that is not empathy.  That is sympathy.  And while sympathy may seem to be the right thing in the moment, it really doesn’t go far enough.  Sympathy keeps us at arms length where we really don’t have to engage with people.



When my father died, all those years ago, many people sympathized, but few understood and empathized with me….felt what I was going through and had been there perhaps.  His death devastated me so much that I didn’t know how I would get through the loss.  I really didn’t want to go on, and if it wasn’t for my Uncle and a dear friend, Marie, I’m not sure I would have gone on with my life.  They listened, helped me cope and go on with my life.



DSCN9807When I listen to people, especially dear friends and loved ones, I used to find it hard to connect without trying to solve their problems.  I wanted to help them so much that I found myself looking for solutions instead of listening.  I mean really listening without thinking about my response….just letting them talk and say what they needed to.  Assuring them I was here for them no matter what they needed.



I have worked hard to mindfully listen, to not solve problems, because the solutions are inevitably for me….how I would solve the problem.  Recently a dear friend shared that living alone was getting scary as she got older.  She is afraid that she could be sick and dying and no one would know.  In that moment I felt her fear.  And we made a pact.  I would call her weekly, and if I didn’t hear back from her I would call her until she called me back.  Usually I waited for her to call me, not wanting to be a pest.  She thanked me and this eased her fear.



DSCN9808Empathy cannot always be shared with everyone for everything.  And sharing our stories takes courage as we want to connect with someone we trust.  Who has earned the right to hear our stories…..who is not going to be critical or hurtful.



And empathy doesn’t stop with people.  Showing we care about the earth, and the critters that inhabit it, is important too.  That is why I garden organically, don’t use chemicals and plant native plants as they use less water and benefit the wildlife.  There is so much we can do to show everyone compassion, but it starts with how we connect with the world and ourselves.  Do we approach it from a place of loving kindness and caring?  I hope so….for this is the single most important thing we can do to make the world better.




bee balm collage


How do you give others the love, empathy and compassion they need?






Special Note:  The pictures here are of bee balm or Monarda that blooms in my garden all summer.  In the Language of Flowers, they symbolize protection from evil and illness. Bee Balm is also said to represent fertility and promotes restful sleep.




I leave you with a few additional words On Empathy  I welcome you to download this photo and share it.


All other photos and original content is copyrighted and the sole property of Donna Donabella @ Living From Happiness, 2014-2016.  Any reprints or use of other photos or content is by permission only.

14 Replies to “Conversations In The Garden: On Empathy”

  1. I try.
    As you know I volunteer on a crisis line. Empathy is hugely important. As is listening. And helping the caller find their own solutions.
    Empathy is a double edged sword though. Because of it I bleed for and with people. And wouldn’t be without it.

    1. I am so grateful for your perceptions here Soosie knowing you volunteer on a crisis line. Yes, help[ing someone find their own solutions is key and listening is the start. Thank you for that important piece! And yes empathy has that double edge…but I wouldn’t be without it either!

  2. A beautiful post, Donna. And I love the pictures, especially the collage. Empathy is a great virtue. It does take compassion and kindness to understand truly what someone is going through, just to listen and be there for them, without judgment or criticism or resentment. What lovely values you set before us today, Donna! And I’m always astonished by the variety and color of gorgeous blooms in your garden. 🙂

    1. Thanks so much Loredana….sometimes I just sit and listen…even if I can’t understand, it seems the best place to start. Then as I listen I see if there is anything I can do for this person. Most of the time they just need a trusted ear and shoulder!

  3. You are so right. Often we just need a listening ear…not a lecture or a solution. Thanks so much for you remarkable insights.

  4. Thank you Donna! I need to think about what you said – listening without trying to find a solution right away. I believe I’m a good listener, but I need to watch myself, because I do try to help with a solution.
    Being kind to the planet, starting with our own gardens – Yes, I agree with you!

    1. I think so many of us do try to solve others problems…it is natural. But I have found if I listen more, the solution usually comes naturally….and usually from those doing the talking. Glad you enjoyed the post Tatyana!

  5. Donna, This is so timely for me. I was talking today with a friend who has ongoing serious health issues and realized that I was having trouble empathizing because I would handle the same issues so differently. Finding a point of connection without assuming that the other person is “just like me” is a skill that we probably all need to work on.

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