Love is a feeling of deep affection for someone or something. Empathy is the ability to understand and share the feelings of others.
We are born premature. In order for the human to pass through the birth canal, it is most likely that nature planned for the baby to be born before the brain grows to a large size. Therefore, the infant enters the world under-developed, helpless and dependant. They then require years of nurturing and protection before they become self-sufficient.
It would be easier to abandon such new-borns because of the resources required to raise them put stress on the tribe. Nature’s solution to this problem was to wire into the brain and nervous system a call-and-response system that keeps child and parent emotionally attach to each other. Babies are equipped with an array of behaviours designed to get the attention of the care-giver: gazing, smiling, crying, clinging, reaching. These are their tools which they use to communicate and create the relationship with their caregiver that is their lifeline.
This drive to attach to others is not learned, but innate. Love is in our nature but the capacity to love is dependent on nurture – experiences we have with our caregivers early in life.
We are wired to care and connect. But this gift of empathy must be developed. Infants brains are very malleable. This means they can easily be shaped one way or another. Empathy and love require experiences to develop and babies don’t learn to care and connect without certain experiences. The love and empathy we receive as a baby shapes how capable we are of giving love and empathy as we grow. The nature of our early experiences will influence how we relate to others throughout our lives.
We are not created selfish but designed to be empathic. We have an innate ability to feel ‘with’ others and to feel ‘for’ others. This part of our nature can be blocked or denied but we are wired to care.
Throughout history the greatest resource that helped us survive was by caring for and cooperating with others. Our brains are wired to read others faces and to ‘feel with’ what we see.
When we are securely connected to others, we are more likely to tune into and respond to the needs of others as if they were our own. Morality and altruism come from our emotional connection with others. Love is our primary source of strength. We are the species who helps and receives help. We are the species who bonds.
Our of our strongest instincts is to look for contact and comforting connection. We are biologically designed to love the people close to us who will protect us and keep us safe throughout the difficulties of life. Relationships are the basis of resilience.
One day a man said to God, “God, I would like to know what Heaven and Hell are like.”
God showed the man two doors. Inside the first one, in the middle of the room, was a large round table with a large pot of stew. It smelled delicious and made the man’s mouth water, but the people sitting around the table were thin and sickly. They appeared to be famished. They were holding spoons with very long handles and each found it possible to reach into the pot of stew and take a spoonful, but because the handle was longer than their arms, they could not get the spoons back into their mouths.
The man shuddered at the sight of their misery and suffering. God said, “You have seen Hell.”
Behind the second door, the room appeared exactly the same. There was the large round table with the large pot of wonderful stew that made the man’s mouth water. The people had the same long-handled spoons, but they were well nourished and plump, laughing and talking.
The man said, “I don’t understand.”
God smiled. It is simple, he said, Love only requires one skill. These people learned early on to share and feed one another. While the greedy only think of themselves…
Discuss what we learn about human nature from the above story.
How would you describe the difference between love and empathy? In what way are they related to each other?
Think of a time where you received love and empathy from someone. Bring that experience into your mind’s eye. Notice how it feels in your body. How would you describe the experience? What sensations do you notice? Think of a time where you gave showed love and empathy towards someone else. Bring that experience up from your memory and imagine it is happening now. What is it like? How would you describe it?
Is there are a difference in the experience of giving love and receiving love? How is it different? Is it similar in any way?
Set the intention to practice being loving or empathic in at least one interaction each day. Notice how it feels to relate in this way. Notice how you feel afterwards.