Did you ever wonder why dogs cock their head to the left or right when you speak to them? Maybe it is because they are trying to hear more clearly? Or is it because they look so cute when they do that, and it will get them a reward or treat?
Or maybe it’s because their muzzles are so big.
That’s the thinking of canine expert Stanley Coren, who has been researching sensory perception and canine behavior for decades, and has written extensively about how dogs and humans communicate with each other. “Hold your fist up to your nose,” suggests Coren. “Now, in effect, you are viewing the world with a head shape that has a muzzle like that of a dog.” Dogs move their heads to get their muzzle out of the way so they can see things more clearly.
I like the idea of moving my muzzle to get a better understanding of what is going on. I like the notion that we can change our perspective, tilt our heads to be able to see things more clearly, and bring new tools to how we perceive, process, and understand what is happening in the world around us and how we respond to it.
Empathy is how we understand and relate to the perspectives and feelings of the people around us. Daniel Goleman, who spoke at an AHC Spring Conference years ago and has written extensively about “Social Intelligence,” asks us to consider three different empathies that help us frame our understanding.
Cognitive & Emotional Empathy
The first is “cognitive empathy”—knowing information, but not necessarily feeling any personal engagement with how another person feels and what they might be thinking. It parallels with “emotional empathy”—feeling very moved or even physically impacted by someone else’s feelings, even if they aren’t entirely understood.
It is when these two empathies are in balance with each other that we model “compassionate empathy”—the empathetic concern that enables us to understand another person’s perspective, emotionally feel how they are feeling, and be willing and able to help them, if needed.
It is our capacity for compassionate empathy that we are called to bring to our work each day. This is the empathy that opens up opportunities for relationships of healing, leading to effective and compassionate care. The head and the heart in balance and engaged in extending God’s care through the ministry of physical, mental, and spiritual healing.