© 2010 John Casimir O'Keefe

Open Requires Empathy

When we are Open we understand the people we serve; we need to be empathic.   To be honest, this is the messiest part of being Open because when people sense in us the ability to be empathic, they will spew all their issues on us.  I call this ‘emotional vomit.’  When people realize that you are Open, and the community is Open, they will spew all their issues on you – have no fear, just take a good shower and be ready for the next day.

An empath has the ability to read, sense, and understand the feeling of others, but this can only happen when we are Open to each other.  An empath is tuned into how others are feeling.

An empath has the ability to scan the feelings of others and they, themselves, understand those feelings.  Most that have this ability have no idea how it works, and most who have this ability have strived to turn it off[1] – because left brain thinking calls this ability weird.   While the left brain shuns the ability to be empathic, the right brain relishes the ability.  During the Industrial Age people were seen as resources, so knowing how another person felt was of no value because it did not add to the bottom line.  In the Conceptual Age people are important, so their feelings are important.  The question is, how does empathy work?

Let us face it, there is very little known about how empathy works – it just does.  Current research is centering on a particular set of neurons called “mirror neurons.[2]”  It is believed that these neurons “mirror” mimic the reactions of others, as if the observer were acting themselves.  While the function of these neurons is the subject of great speculation, there is research being done by people like V. S. Ramachandran, Stephanie Preston, Frans De Waal and Vittorio Gallese where mirror neurons seem to play a role in understanding empathy.  Another thought is that every living thing produces energy, and an empath has the ability to sense that energy.  By sensing that energy, you develop an understanding of how others feel.  I tend to think that the ability to be empathic to the feelings of others comes with life experiences that are magnified by the divine (the divine could be that source of energy).  When we are able to remember our past hurts and pains we understand the ability to know the hurts and pains of another.  It is not about being able to put yourself in their shoes; it is the ability to put yourself in their skin.

Conceptual leaders remember their walk and their pains in life.  They know what it feels like to be so hurt that you are left breathless.  Due to the memory of their own pains, they can feel the pains of others.  Being empathic is much more than being sympathetic.

If a person is sympathetic to the pain of others, they can only guess at what that pain feels like;  if one is empathic to another person’s pain, they know how it feels by sharing in that pain.  Being sympathetic means we guess at how another feels and it requires a great deal of conversation to get it.  When you are empathic to the hurts of another there is no need for the spoken word, you just get it.

[Taken from Pages 126-128, boneYARD; creatives will change the way we lead in the church]

[1] While they try to turn off this ability, they can’t.  So, because the left brain world sees this as “weird” they simply keep quit, ripping their souls out from the inside.  Many get depressed, but the smart ones simply find a place where they can be who God made them to be.

[2] http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mirror_neurons  Accessed August 20, 2010.


  1. Posted 2010/09/26 at 10:56 am | #

    Beiing empathic sounds easy but as far as I have seen only few friends of mine have such skill. Maybe I don’t understand this term right but at least i think so.

  2. john o'keefe
    Posted 2010/09/26 at 1:56 pm | #

    i think more people have the ability then they let on – and i think they hide it because of “left-brain social pressure.” when people are encouraged to invite their empathic side out, they start to see the world in some very different ways 🙂

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