Should I Empathise or be Kind? What Difference Does it Make?

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Western writings often tout empathy as a strong glue for social togetherness and harmony. However, The Majestic Quran encourages kindness. Which is more valuable? In more than a dozen places the Quran teaches ‘Be kind and forgive’. I argue that in contrast to the Western notion of empathy, Islamic kindness is the best policy. Enjoy reading about how to take control of your mood.

In day-to-day encounters, mutual responsibilities and working in teams we are told to be polite to each other by ‘saying nice things to them.’ Some think this requires empathy, willingness to understand or feel what another person is going through, ‘walk in their shoes’. Empathy is regarded as the social glue, that can bring people together even those who have hurt us. It’s a commonly encouraged emotion.

However, Paul Bloom a psychologist suggests that empathy is not sufficient since “It spotlights only where you point it, and for that reason empathy is biased. Feelings of empathy arise unequally across situations, and people tend to empathise more with members of their own group. In negative settings, empathy can even lead to emotional distress and burnout.”

Definitions of Empathy and Kindness

Empathy is defined as feeling sorry for someone who is in a bad situation. To feel sympathy for someone because you understand that person’s problems. You say, ‘I sympathise but how can I help?’ Whereas kindness is about having empathy along with helping those who are struggling – not just with a physical ailment, but also mentally and emotionally.

Empathy is not a word that is used in the Quran or the Ahadith literature instead our Islamic texts use terms like ‘Kindness, generosity, forgiveness, patience, and gentleness’. Moral values that underpin strong character. This shows the accuracy of the Islamic approach to morality. The world is catching up with the Divine truth, Alhamdulillah, our faith is not a dream, nor an irrational mindset but the sixth sense. Faith in Allah’s words provides the emotional and intellectual strength for growing morally.

Be kind don’t just sympathise

The Messenger’s (peace be upon him) kindness is mentioned often in the Quran and Ahadith since it offers an effective way to deal with hostility. An alternative to empathy. In the battle of Uhud, 70 disciples were martyred, the Messenger’s (peace be upon him) favourite uncle Hamza was killed, his body mutilated, and the Messenger (peace be upon him) himself was badly injured. This happened because the group of archers stationed at a vantage point failed to do what they were told. That allowed the enemy to attack from the rear.

But look at how the Messenger (peace be upon him) reacted, he didn’t court-martial them nor rebuke them. The Quran described his dignified response, “Due to the kindness you have been granted from Allah, you were lenient with them; if you had been harsh and hardhearted, they would have broken away from you, so pardon them, seek forgiveness for them and consult them. Then, when you have reached a decision, put your trust in Allah. Allah loves those who put their trust in Him. If Allah helps you, no one can defeat you; but if He humiliates you, who then will be your helper? The believers trust Allah” (Ale Imran:159-160).

Notice it’s not empathy but kindness and forgiveness. So, when someone hurts you, you say that’s their problem. I will not do or say anything for revenge. If someone hates me that’s their problem but I will still be patient and cheerful with them.

The markets of Makkah

In the markets of Makkah, the Messenger (peace be upon him) witnessed the most deceptive social environment, fraud, dishonesty, inequity, oppression and physical brutality. He couldn’t bear it, he (peace be upon him) sobbed and wondered how he could bring about a change. He (peace be upon him) was so intensely affected that the Quran had to calm him down, “are you going to kill yourself…” He wondered how he could maintain the moral high ground.

But he had the most powerful tool to deal with this despicable situation; kindness and forgiveness. The Quranic injunction was, to take control of your emotions, not to worry about them and keep your emotions in check. “Allah doesn’t change people’s condition until they change it themselves” (Al-Ra’d: 11). This is so empowering, it teaches independence from social context and to gain self-mastery.

Don’t let others bother you. Discard their attacks and insults. So, the Messenger (peace be upon him) never thought of them as a catastrophe. Being kind made the Beloved Mustafa (peace be upon him) the ruler of men and women’s hearts. He was not fazed by foolish people’s provocations. When you pay attention to the offender that will make you angrier and you’ll feel like a victim. By adopting the Prophetic model of kindness, you can avoid this.

Conclusion

How can you be kind to someone who insults you? How do you become resilient to criticism and rebuke? We believe that humans have the potential to deal with awkward people and conditions. You can change your mental framework and the way you react. So, now adjust, pacify and control your mood, you are the master of yourself, with the help of Allah.