A Wrong Assumption We Make in Life: Empathy vs. Projection

We make a lot of assumptions in life especially when it comes to people. Assuming people are doing wrong things unintentionally, assuming we are taking a decision for some factual reasons while we are run on our subconscious operating systems at full speed…

I have realized there is one underlying factor behind the majority of the assumptions we make. It is “projection”. We keep projecting ourselves as purely ourselves into other people without having any context on their backgrounds, things they have gone through, and the uniqueness of their characters. We make a lot of conclusions, even judgments, and decisions as a result of our own projections. Every time we keep telling ourselves things like “If she cared, she would have called”, “if he was that type of a person, he would have done that in this situation”, “my manager probably did not like this idea, because otherwise, she would have shown it in XYZ way.”, we are projecting what we would have been doing in such situations and expect the person would do the same. And if they are not doing it, we make dangerous conclusions.

On the surface, this sounds like empathy. But, I think we tend to have a struggle when it comes to differentiating empathy and projection. Of course, empathy is such a necessary and great tool. But empathy is not putting yourself into other people’s shoes and their situations while keeping your own lenses. I think it is seeing the world and situations from their lenses directly. And, it is much harder.

The problem of projection resides in 3 areas. First, as we keep doing projections, we would keep experiencing a lot of false negatives and false positives in our lives. We will end up losing a lot of opportunities due to the wrong conclusions of false negatives or following the paths which we should not have followed due to false positives. Adding our subconscious into the equation, good luck with figuring out your life :)

Second, sometimes projection and following the conclusions of your projections may feel incredibly natural that you may think you are following your intuition while you are following your wrong conclusions coming as a result of your projections. Looking backward, a lot of the times I have thought I was following my intuition, I was actually following the deductions from my projections.

Third, it is a very ignorant view that usually leads to immature assumptions & judgments and prevents effective communication in your work/life relationships. It completely ignores another person’s background, life experiences, disappointments, fears, personality; and it is a primitive and unevolved way of handling things.

Lastly, if there is one thing better than empathy, it is compassion. I have always inspired by Jeff Weiner’s view on this topic when he says compassion=empathy+ action. Pure empathy would be useful to prevent your destructive actions, but you cannot drive a positive change with sole empathy, it is necessary but insufficient. Eventually we are all on our path to compassion. Once we pass the trap of projection vs. empathy, the path will get smoother.

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