Now, how does a show in which every more recent episode seems to be actively trying to beat the previous in a contest of gore and orgies have anything to do with empathy?
Answer: The show’s depiction of Marcus Crassus, the Roman general whom finally brings down the undefeated Spartacus, and the difference between him and the other Roman military commanders.
The rest of Rome’s generals, perched high amongst socialites, regarded Spartacus and his army as an uncultured rabble whom were beneath their mighty Republic. And oh what fun did the rebel army have with Rome’s favorite sons.
By contrast, Marcus Crassus (in the show), when finally given command, not only annoyed the Roman elitists with his respect for Spartacus, he seemed to have adored his opponent –rarely speaking ill of said insurgent.
Crassus, free from prejudice and judgment, was able to attain the clarity needed to predict Spartacus’ strategy, outmaneuver him, and ultimately end the slave rebellion.
The type of empathy demonstrated above is called “cognitive empathy”, a subcategory that involves understanding another’s thoughts and emotions rationally instead of emotionally or compassionately. (After all, Crassus did end up crucifying 6000 slaves along the Appian Way)
In my previous article, I touched base on how empathy can be used to understand one another and how the ability is a basic building block to a peaceful society. The exact same concept can be used to defuse hostile situations and gain advantage against your competition.
Crassus’ capacity to fully comprehend Spartacus pays homage to his refusal to judge his enemy. Please recall my first article about empathy where I discuss how I, as a student of acting, was able to transform into a character I detested after I stopped being judgmental of him.
Upon releasing personal bias, you allow for the opportunity to acquaint yourself with a reality clear as crystal. Should this involve a competitor, what better way to gain advantage than to explore his or her reality; to feel and to discover where this proverbial crystal has its cracks and fissures?
Most people, when faced with a rival, will instinctively prejudge and assign a list of preconceived faults. Doing so will only give you an inaccurate assessment of the obstacle and rob you of the ability to deal with that obstacle in the most effective way possible.
Dealing with a rival by using competitive empathy also gives you the opportunity to grow as an individual and to enhance your own world-view. If someone is worthy enough to be your rival, then that someone is worthy for you to learn about.
Do you hate Donald Trump? Good, then go to your local library to pick up his book “Art of The Deal”. Learn it, steal it, and use it against him or someone like him.
Is Obama not your favorite cup of tea? Good for you. Seek out his strongest, smartest supporter. Empty your mind and hear that person speak. Did your views deviate in the slightest? If so, evolve your thinking. If not, you now have some great tools to turn his followers against him.
Are you a feminist? Go visit the Return of King’s website- one of the most dangerous, misogynistic sites on the Internet. Let go of anger and judgement so that you can observe their most zealot followers. See the world from their perspective. Find out what they are afraid of and what they are truly after. Now, figure out an antidote for these poor bastards.
Yes, I realize I sound like a cold-blooded Machiavellian but this method of eliminating competition can actually be virtuous. By dropping your prejudice and putting yourself in the shoes of a competitor, you get in touch with the other side of the story.
Not only do you receive a clearer situational assessment, you get a great opportunity to expand your horizons and to reexamine whether the conflict is as necessary as you had originally thought.
Keep in mind that a competitor does not have to be a rival. It could be an employer, a partner that disagrees with your proposal, a customer you need to sell to, that one girl’s hovering best friend ☺, or even yourself (Inception).
Here is the catch: employing cognitive empathy may not be the most comfortable task at times. Having your worldview challenged can be highly disorienting and may erode upon your sense of purpose. You may go from being completely sure of yourself to walking on unstable ground.
For this technique to be effective, it is important for you to practice empathy, to seek self-discovery, to practice good ethics, and to maintain a growth mindset on a consistent basis.
By doing so, you become accustomed to dealing with cognitive dissonance and you decrease the chance of being hypocritical. As a result, you will be less fazed should you have your worldview breached while going behind the enemy’s mental lines.