Shoshin & Empathy

Shoshin is a word from Zen Buddhism meaning “beginner’s mind.” It refers to having an attitude of openness, eagerness, and lack of preconceptions when studying a subject, even when studying at an advanced level, just as a beginner would. – Wikipedia

In general, the Shoshin spirit is associated with an attitude that favors the acquisition of knowledge. The metaphor of the glass that is never full is used and therefore is always able to retain something new. Striving to perceive the ordinary facts of daily life with fresh eyes. Maintaining a critical sense and attention to detail that could go unnoticed.

But there is another dimension to this beginner’s mind that refers to the nonviolent communication model developed by psychologist Marshall Rosenberg. We all need a clear mind to connect empathically with others. What do I mean by that?

I’m not referring to those people we meet for the first time and because of their skin color, gender, age, clothing, accent or any other external aspect, we immediately think we know what to expect from this person or fit them into some stereotype. I’d be stating the obvious if I was merely suggesting that we can’t assume these things from strangers.

On the contrary, I am speaking precisely of our closest friends and our family. A clear example of this is that we are much less tolerant of our own children than our neighbors. Simply because we think we always know what is best for them. An effective form of conflict resolution is to avoid assumptions and preconceived ideas and theories about each other:

  • Strive to be clear about your expectations. Even people who know you for a long time can’t read your mind.
  • Engage in conversation without anticipating the other person’s behaviour. Avoid thoughts such as: “It’s no use talking to you”, “I already know what you are going to say” or “You will disappoint me again”.
  • Do not assume that you already understand the problem completely and you know exactly what the other must do to solve it.

That is, to create empathy you need to maintain a shoshin spirit. Open and empty. If you look at each other with compassion, you strengthen both the other person and you.


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