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Empathy: How important is this skill in our personal & professional lives. Are we good at it?

Research shows that Emotionally Intelligent Leaders are empathetic. Is showing empathy easy? What if we don't like the person who needs our understanding?

Could we describe empathy along a continuum because sometimes we show this kind of connecting communication from a glass quite empty, in a self-serving, people-pleasing kind of way, and at other times we engage empathetically because we can be positive, generous, and really hear what people are saying through their words or feelings because we are filled-up inside?

On our Weekly Wilderness Webinar a few days ago I introduced you to two unusual bonded pairs in the animal world: a lioness and an oryx (predator and prey!), and a baby hippo and a century old tortoise (of very different ages and stages of development). What kind of empathy existed between the two 'couples'?

To see the 'couples' interact in their diverse ways please view these two videos:

The Lioness and the Oryx:

The Baby Hippo and the Tortoise:

In Summary, this is what we discovered about Empathy from the lioness and the oryx, and the tortoise and then baby hippo:

Both 'couples' came together through traumas: one emotional and one environmental. The lioness possibly lost her family before she was ready to be on her own, she still needed a mother. She lost siblings too. As a result she found a baby oryx and he became a combination of characters to her: her child who she could mother, her hostage who she did not let out of her sight, and her companion. In her trauma the Empathy she showed was self-serving, and both her and the baby oryx were unable to find food. The oryx needed milk and the lioness needed to kill to survive, but she would not kill her child-companion-hostage. In the end, the baby oryx wandered from the lioness protection for a few seconds as they sourced some water to drink at a river, and became food for a big, male lion.

Our life-insight from their sad plight is:

  1. We can only show true empathy when we know who we are and how to care for ourselves.

  2. When we show empathy from a self-serving, emotionally empty place we compromise our own wellbeing as well as those we connect with.

Chin up....our next unusual 'couple' offer hope. The baby hippo lost it's mother when a tsunami washed her away and stranded him on a shoreline far from where he was born. Rescuers translocated him to a rehabilitation centre in Kenya where he met a wise old tortoise who looked like a familiar grey hump, only the legs of the century-old tortoise, were way shorter than that of his mother. The baby hippo must have thought, 'she will do as my new mother'.

The aged tortoise was not keen on this new arrangement but had empathy and compassion, and finally agreed to lick the baby hippo on the face acknowledging it's needs. The two hung out together all day every day, sleeping together, eating together and walking around together. As the baby hippo grew the rehabilitation centre caretakers were concerned he was getting way to big for his companion for the old mother tortoise to be safe. The hippo was gradually introduced to a hippo mate and the tortoise returned to solitary safeness nearby.

The empathetic expression of the mother tortoise to the baby hippo came from a place of experienced maturity, grounded wisdom and no neediness. The outcomes were the baby hippo was restored to physical and emotional health, he was reassured through their bond and the rich interconnection meant that the baby hippo grew up to trust others and make new, more appropriate, friends.


There is no Weekly Wilderness Webinar this week.

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