Having Empathy

Elder Dale G. Renlund talks about how contention weakens us spiritually and in the eyes of others. In “The Peace of Christ Abolishes Enmity“, he describes how to put our discipleship of Christ first, especially when contention arises. One way we can do that is by having empathy.


Empathy is “the ability to understand and share the feelings of another” (Oxford Languages). Notice it is an understanding, not necessarily an acceptance. This is key to being empathetic while still holding onto one’s beliefs.


I entered the Missionary Training Center in Provo, Utah in June of 1989. The first thing they taught us to be effective missionaries was to develop empathy. We needed to have an understanding of those we shared the gospel with. The exercises we engaged in helped to develop true empathy that we were able to use in our missionary efforts.

During my mission, I had the opportunity to work with people in different environments and different socio-economic classes. One time we were sharing with some investigators and came to the topic of tithing. For those who might not be familiar, church members donate one-tenth of their earnings to the church. This is a commandment from God and so as missionaries we shared that with investigators to ensure they understood the concept. The investigators we were teaching were not in the best financial situation. Tithing was a very difficult topic for them. We worked with them, but they decided that it would be too much for them and did not choose to join the church at that time. As my companion and I walked away from the house, we discussed the issue. He told me that he understood that tithing can be hard for people, especially when finances are tight. I witnessed his empathy for those investigators and that helped me to gain more empathy also.

On another occasion, I failed at showing empathy. We were at the home of a member and his uncle and cousin were present. His uncle wasn’t a member and drew us into a discussion about Adam and Eve. His belief was that Adam and Eve were driven from the Garden of Eden because of sexual sin. I explained our belief that it was because they partook of the fruit of the tree of knowledge of good and evil. Unfortunately, I was being obstinate. I argued contentiously with him. There were no good feelings and my empathy was non-existent. After the interaction, my companion called me on my lack of empathy. I was still upset and told him “we are also here to correct wrong thinking.” However, I was in the wrong and handled it incorrectly. I did not try to understand the member’s uncle. As a consequence, this member’s cousin, who was interested in hearing our message, decided not to hear it. This is one of my biggest regrets from my mission.

How to Increase Empathy?

How do we increase our empathy so that we can understand others? I have found three things that help me to have empathy today.

  • Take a breath when feeling contentious
  • Listen, listen, listen
  • Understand the context of the situation

Whenever we encounter a situation where we begin to feel contentious, we need to take a breath. By taking a breath we allow ourselves to regain control of our emotions. It allows us to pause and think instead of reacting. It also allows that feeling of contention to pass, giving us more clarity.

Next, if we listen to the person or persons and really hear what they are saying, we can begin to understand their side of the engagement. Listening is also a good way to check our feelings. By listening we change the focus from our emotions to what is being presented to us.

Finally, taking a moment to understand the context of the situation allows us to see where the other side is coming from. They may be coming from a recent experience that has them hyped up, frustrated, or looking for an outlet. There may be environmental factors that have led to the engagement. Understanding the context of the situation helps us understand those we are engaged with.

Why Empathy?

In the 11th Article of Faith we read: “We claim the privilege of worshipping Almighty God according to the dictates of our own conscience, and allow all men the same privilege, let them worship how, where, or what they may.” How can we claim this if we don’t have empathy towards others? Empathy allows us to truly live this article of our faith.

The Savior said, “A new commandment I give unto you, That ye love one another; as I have loved you, that ye also love one another. By this shall all men know, that ye are my disciples, if ye have love one to another.” (John 13:34-35). In order to love others, we must have empathy. We must be like the Savior and have an understanding of others. We must strive to show empathy as He did.

Finally, having empathy allows us to have inner peace. As we strive to understand others, it becomes easier to love them. When we love others, we naturally love ourselves. When we love ourselves, we find peace. I know of nothing more comforting in life than having inner peace.


Contentious situations are something that we cannot avoid. However, we can do things in those situations to help diffuse the contention. The biggest thing we can do is show empathy. Take that breath, listen, understand the context, and then show that you understand the feelings of others. Then have a rational discussion that both parties can benefit from.

One response to “Having Empathy”

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: