The Obvious But Most Misunderstood Quality Behind Success
Bill Cottringer

“I look for a role that hopefully I feel empathy with and that I can understand and love, but also that has that challenge for me to play - a different kind of role, a different type of character, a different time period.” ~Kathy Bates

Everybody has a theory about and their own private formula for success. But something is missing. That missing thing is the most obvious but misunderstood common denominator behind all success, whether it is success at relationships, work or play. Many things are inter-related when it comes to success, things like having the right purpose, the amount of effort you are willing to expend, the timing put in place, the degree of creativity imagined, the particular approach used and the perseverance and patience exercised. But one main thing drives all the others and this is the quality of empathy.

Some important success-related qualities stand out more than others in developing and displaying good character and spiritual maturity. These are love, hope, charity, compassion, acceptance, understanding and forgiveness. But even these fundamental drives in life are fueled by the quality of empathy. In any of the helping professions, the development of empathy is the number one goal in the curriculum, because it is so important and because everything else is secondary to it. The same goes for being successful in any work, relationships or play, and in doing anything from being popular in school, achieving business success, being an elite athlete, running a non-profit organization that gets results, having a good relationship, working as an employee doing something worthwhile, satisfying and meaningful or being a stay-at-home parent using home schooling for raising your children to be successful.

Why is empathy so important and what important purpose does empathy serve? These answers are the same. The most fundamental truth we all sense and know in our bones, but can’t prove rationally, is that everything is connected in an ultimate “oneness.” This means that everyone and everything else’s pain is our own and anything we do to anyone and anything else, we are really doing to ourselves. This is not any easy insight to grasp and understand; but once we do, everything makes perfect sense. This is especially true about the evil tragedies that bring tears to God’s eyes, that we judge as being very wrong and very undesirable, but nevertheless, serve the purpose of letting us know they are wrong.

All the mental, emotional and soulful pain that all living things sense and experience is energy that forms what earlier Psychologist Carl Jung called the “collective unconsciousness.” Empathetic people are especially able to tap into this pain library in the sky, but only because they are open to and have great courage to experience the dark and painful side of life to better understand and accept it—from horrific events like the Hitler Holocaust, Charles Manson’s brutal murders, school violence and terrorism and deadly mayhem today.

Being able to exercise enough empathy to be successful as a student, teacher, business leader, athlete, non-profit director, employee, stay-at-home parent, or a wife, husband or partner, can’t be taught; it can only be gained from having the openness and courage to experience the dark and painful part of life to truly understand, accept and forgive those who offend our souls. This may be the single most difficult challenge we face in life, and most commonly fail at, which just perpetuates the violence and extreme failures in life. We have a very big problem without a cure.

Unfortunately, there are no sure prescriptions for developing or displaying this ultimate success quality of empathy. But there are some clues as suggested below:

1. Closely study great movies, plays or TV shows with outstanding actors and plots that are highly successful. Awhile back when our local Blockbuster went under, I purchased the entire 8-year compelling TV series “24.” There is not a minute that goes by with watching each episode, that doesn’t offer a valuable clue about empathy. And the movie, “Max” with John Cusack, offered some very valuable clues as to what drove Hitler’s behavior that is near impossible to understand, accept and forgive, especially about his political use of the violent artistic colors of black, white and red. Study good movies or plays for clues about the important quality of empathy.

2. Nature has an abundance of natural empathy to watch and learn from. That is also one of the best places to meditate on life, our connections to the oneness that we can’t explain, and what our real role is in living to make it better for ourselves and others, so that we all get to the finish line.

3. History is loaded with horrific and painful events to study and learn true motivations of the evil deeds committed by the worst villains. This is an open door to understanding and feeling the empathy that realizes the relevance of the adage, “There but for the Grace of God, goith I.”

4. Trust life to do the one thing it always does sooner or later—take you through the dark and painful part of living during the most extreme adversities, to a better place. Have the openness and courage to experience both sides of life—the good and comfortable and the bad and uncomfortable—both for yourself and others. We all depend upon you.

“It's got to do with putting yourself in other people's shoes and seeing how far you can come to truly understand them. I like the empathy that comes from acting.” ~Christian Bale.

Author's Bio: 

William Cottringer, Ph.D. is Executive Vice President for Employee Relations for Puget Sound Security, Inc. in Bellevue, WA, along with being a Sport Psychologist, Business Success Coach, Photographer and Writer living in the scenic mountains and rivers of North Bend. He is author of several business and self-development books, including, “You Can Have Your Cheese & Eat It Too” (Executive Excellence), “The Bow-Wow Secrets” (Wisdom Tree), “Do What Matters Most” and “P” Point Management” (Atlantic Book Publishers), “Reality Repair” (Global Vision Press), and Reality Repair Rx (Authorsden). Bill can be reached for comments or questions at (425) 652-8067 or