Empathy is a gift

By Younas Chaudhary

Empathy is a struggle for all of us. It is difficult to see the world from another person’s perspective, however hard we try, and the ability to do so is a rare gift. And yet, it is crucial that we be more empathetic to our fellow human beings during hard times like these.

Growing up in a remote village in Pakistan with dirt roads, extreme poverty, and minimal resources, I learned empathy by seeing and doing it. We saw poverty up front, with farmers facing starvation, eating crumbs of leavened bread, lentil curry, and boiled rice, while the rich ate buttery fresh food and meat. When guests came home on special occasions, we had chicken curry, and the good parts went to the guests, while the rest were left for the host. As a family, we showed empathy feeding our guests well while sacrificing our own needs.

Little, meaningful acts of compassion taught by my parents were very helpful as I grew up.  Our tight-knit communal society also taught me how to understand another person’s perspective.

This helped me as I moved towards the ruggedly individualistic society in the West later.  I still remember an incident in my life when someone’s empathy led my career to take on an entirely different trajectory. The year was 1983, and I was in Wichita, Kansas running my oilfield business. I had to submit a deposit of $300,000 to secure the purchase of several oil assets from Texaco. With little money in hand, I tried very hard to get funds from different sources, but my efforts fell short. This forced me to run an advertisement in the local newspaper seeking investors to partner with me in securing the purchase. The weekend before the deadline, I received a call from a gentleman who asked me about my business background, took some details, and said he would visit me in my office the next day. I was not very hopeful and wondered if anyone would be empathetic towards my urgent need.

However, an older, well-dressed gentleman arrived in my office the next day, got more details, and in the evening, returned with a $300,000 check! I was shocked and wondered how such an empathetic angel could appear at the eleventh hour to save me! After completing the deal with Texaco, I started sending payment checks back to the gentleman, but very soon found out that none of them were being cashed. I tried hard reaching out to him but did not get any responses.  To this day, I believe it was a rare empathetic act from God that saved me from a difficult situation. He did this understanding my needs, desperation and did it without any expectation!

As human beings, we have the urge to make money, especially in the West where capitalism is the way of life. Over the years, I have learned the value of empathy, largely through personal experiences.

A few weeks ago, I decided to stop pursuing legal action against a former employee who had been charged with stealing over a million dollars from one of our oilfields. As part of his plea bargain, the court had ordered him to return hundreds of thousands of dollars over a 10-year time period, something he could not fulfill. My decision to forgive him the outstanding money and all accrued interest most likely stunned the former employee and his legal representative. It was a difficult decision for me to voluntarily suffer such an unnecessary financial loss for my business and leave him unpunished. However, I had to work hard to put myself in his shoes, and my thoughts about his family and his aging parents made me decide to stop further legal action. My team also supported my decision. I felt that this was a right and proper act of empathy.

As leaders, being empathetic is hard, especially when we have to find a middle path between a rational decision and one driven by emotion. When COVID-19 hit our energy businesses, we had to pivot fast and make tough decisions. Luckily, through quick, decisive actions that helped us control costs, we avoided major layoffs. Staff who were furloughed for short periods of time were brought back as soon as we saw some sense of stability. I wanted to make sure that we did everything in our power to give a sense of security to our staff, especially during a pandemic.

In these uncertain times, we must nurture greater empathy among our younger generation, and as parents, our deeds can be great examples. My wife, Bushra, before she got afflicted with Parkinson’s Disease, was a very empathetic person. She had the inborn talent and compassion to foresee and understand others’ worries, especially financial worries, and she would be the first to give people cash rolled in tiny napkins, in her own style! Sometimes this became a real ordeal for me during our shopping experiences, where sales clerks paid greater attention to her needs than mine!

Being empathetic is hard, and we should strive to understand another person’s situation before making any judgments through our own unconscious biases. What I have seen in my life is that the more empathetic we are, the more God rewards us in different and surprising ways.

The more you give unconditionally, and without any motives, the more you get back! And, if you want to be rich, do not pile up cash under your pillow; instead, help others with an empathetic attitude, and God will shower abundant blessings on you and your family!

Here are a few tips on showing empathy towards others:

  • Listen eagerly and passionately with a goal to understand the other person’s perspective.
  • Hear others’ stories with compassion, and act on it.
  • Stay humble and try your best not to show off.
  • Ask questions to understand the full picture of others’ issues and struggles.
  • Be proactive in how you react.
  • Determine how your empathetic decision will help the respective individual in the long run and follow through on it with intention.
  • Invest, dedicate and spend your time and money by assisting and helping other human beings in their pain, disease, and illness.

Here are ways to connect with me

You can read more by purchasing my best-selling memoir “From Dirt Roads to Black Gold.” Note that 100 percent of the proceeds from the sale of this book will help people in need through my foundation, the YBC Foundation.


The views, thoughts, and opinions expressed in this article are my own and do not represent the opinions of any entity with which I have been, am now, or will be affiliated.  Further, I make no warranty regarding the accuracy or effectiveness of my recommendations, and readers are advised to consult other advisors as well as their own judgments in making business decisions.