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What's Changing? - Empathy



Please see below selected recent empathy-related change.


See also:


January 2022


December 2021


November 2021


October 2021


September 2021

  • As we go through tough times, struggle with burnout or find it challenging to find happiness at work, empathy can be a powerful antidote and contribute to positive experiences for individuals and teams. A new study of 889 employees by Catalyst found empathy has some significant constructive effects. When people reported their leaders were empathetic, they were more likely to report they were able to be innovative—61% of employees compared to only 13% of employees with less empathetic leaders. 76% of people who experienced empathy from their leaders reported they were engaged compared with only 32% who experienced less empathy. 50% of people with empathetic leaders reported their workplace was inclusive, compared with only 17% of those with less empathetic leadership.
  • Empathy seems to be inborn. In a study by Lund University, children as young as two demonstrated an appreciation that others hold different perspectives than their own. Research at the University of Virginia found when people saw their friends experiencing threats, they experienced activity in the same part of their brain which was affected when they were personally threatened. People felt for their friends and teammates as deeply as they felt for themselves. All of this makes empathy an important part of our human condition.


August 2021

  • The author of Empathy: A History explained in Psyche that while today we think about empathy as a way to understand another’s experience, when the English word ‘empathy’ first appeared in 1908 as a translation of the German Einfühlung, it denoted an aesthetic ability to appreciate objects and nature. If embodied aesthetic engagement comprised empathy’s principal definition in the early decades of the 20th century, by the time of the Second World War, this meaning faded. Empathy’s interpersonal meaning came to the fore, and empathy became almost exclusively a matter of grasping another’s experience. However, to do so accurately now required putting aside one’s own feelings and minimising one’s self in order to more clearly grasp another’s experience, which could be very different from one’s own.


May 2021

  • Quartz noted that empathy is a critical part of many people’s jobs. It’s the quality that allows a manager to give feedback in a way that’s both constructive and kind, or helps a teacher figure out the right way to connect with a shy student. But there is also a point at which empathy can tip over into excess. When we feel other people’s pain too deeply, we can wind up exhausted and overwhelmed. The technical term for this feeling is “empathy distress,” which is common among “people who absorb too much of other people’s negative emotions,” says Daniel Goleman, an author and psychologist whose work on emotional intelligence has greatly influenced the fields of business and education.


March 2021


February 2021


December 2020


May 2020

  • The coronavirus pandemic caused many people to enter a state of "forced empathy," Eve Fairbanks explained in The New Republic. This is why so many of us consent to wearing masks; we aren't necessarily protecting ourselves but protecting others from possible infection. It's forced empathy, and for many, it feels strangely rewarding to act on it. So how do we get better at having empathy for others and what does it actually help?  Elizabeth Segal, PhD explained in Psychology Today that empathy is as beneficial for you as it is for the people you feel for. Segal believes empathy can: Help us make better decisions, connect us more deeply to others, lower stress, provide antidotes to burnout, and guide our moral compass. 


October 2019

  • Finding a midway point between traditional capitalism and socialism, so-called "empathicalism" would focus on bridging concepts, regions and people. It would be about ending divisions and promoting collaboration, driving individuals towards a real sense of community. Empathic societies remind us that we are just a part of the whole, and that without the whole we are nothing. If we want to promote change in the world, there is no other way than to be empathetic with one other - as well as with our planet.
  • Ashoka Foundation developed a downloadable toolkit to foster empathy skills in the classroom. Tool cards contain lesson plans and activities that can be used with many grade levels. Activities are organised into ways to prepare a safe space, engage kids in activities that lift empathy skills, and strengthen class members to take action on empathetic feelings. For instance, to create an "emotional intelligence charter".


August 2019


July 2019

  • Empathy is widely regarded as one of life's most important skills, but can it ever go too far? In his 2016 book Against Empathy, Canadian American psychologist and professor of psychology Dr. Paul Bloom makes the case for “rational compassion”, reminding us that empathy has a dark side. Of the possible definitions one could use, the definition Bloom uses here is “imagining the feelings of another and attempting to feel them too”.  He argues that imagining someone else’s feelings is probably impossible and even if a person is successful in imagining the misery of another and reproducing it in himself we are only left with the multiplication of debilitating misery. Bloom asserts that reason is a better guide than empathy in most circumstances.
  • While some people naturally exude empathy, others struggle to relate to their colleagues. The good news is that empathy is not a fixed trait: one can learn, develop, and implement empathy skills over time to get the most from a team. Empathy encourages collaboration, which in turn improves productivity


June 2019


May 2019


April 2019

  • The School of Life noted that most machines of any degree of complexity are offered to us with an instruction manual - the assumption being that it will be so much easier to deal with the machine when we have taken some time systematically and patiently to learn how it operates. Yet one area where we tend not to have manuals to read is when it comes to other people and their functioning. This causes us immense troubles. We go into relationships without any real sense of where the other’s peculiarities will lie - and vice versa. We unwittingly proceed as if operating another person might be an intuitive skill we’ll pick up along the way. It can take a decade or more to work out the very basics.
  • Aeon's primer on empathy, written by the author of Social Empathy: The Art of Understanding Othersfound that:
    • One of the leading psychology scholars on empathy, C Daniel Batson, pointed out that, although definitions of empathy vary, all share the view that empathy is a process through which we experience and understand the feelings of others, and that can move us to respond in considerate and concerned ways.
    • Empathy helps people to share the experiences of other people and different groups. However, empathy as we now know it, thanks to breakthroughs in cognitive neuroscience, is more complicated than a moment of feeling concern for someone. Empathy is a complex set of brain activities that come together to help people experience and interpret the actions, behaviours and emotions of other.
    • Empathy is not imagining how you might feel in the place of another. It is imagining and trying to understand what the other person feels. The difference between thinking about yourself in another’s situation and thinking about the other person in that situation is simple but profound, requiring well-developed, differentiated mental abilities.
    • Empathy can also be used to understand social situations and even political events. This is social empathy, using perspective-taking abilities to understand different groups and cultures. Social empathy adds a larger dimension to applying empathy. It requires that people understand in some basic way historical events and their consequences for others. It means trying to understand people we might not personally know, and experiences we have not had..
    • Empathy is the tool to recognise and value others. In societies, collective empathy is the key to civilisation. Empathy gives people a roadmap to morality and positive social behaviour. It is a prerequisite to valuing and fighting for fairness and justice.
    • Research has demonstrated that, neurologically, we are more likely to experience the feelings of another with whom we see similarities. If there is a strongly learned bias, as with racism, it can be even more difficult to experience the other’s feelings. Empathic bias means people are more likely to mirror those whom they see as similar.


March 2019


February 2019

  • As it is hard to know if people all feel things the same way, a study from a team of Finnish researchers mapped emotions to where most people feel them in their own bodies. It turns out that most of us feel our emotions in similar places. Some of the locations were unsurprising: hunger was felt in the stomach, thirst in the throat, reasoning and recollection in the head. But others were more surprising, even if they made sense intuitively. The positive emotions of gratefulness and togetherness and the negative emotions of guilt and despair all looked remarkably similar, with feelings mapped primarily in the heart, followed by the head and stomach. Mania and exhaustion, another two opposing emotions, were both felt all over the body. 


January 2019


November 2018


October 2018


September 2018


July-August 2018

  • We know that empathy is a deeply important quality, which enables us to see the world as it looks through other, normally very different, eyes. But we may be unsure quite how to achieve this prized perspective. We may think of it as the business of escaping our normal egoism, of leaving the self – and putting ourselves imaginatively into someone else’s experience. But, for The School of Life, the trick for empathy might be slightly different. It isn’t so much about transcending ourselves as it is about practising an unusual kind of introspection, which takes us into less familiar parts of our own minds.
  • Can we escape the prison of our own feelings and desires and embrace the lives of others, discovering ourselves by learning about other people, and finding out how they live, think and look at the world?  Roman Krznaric thinks so.  In this RSA video, Krznaric discussed the "habits of highly empathetic people" and why they can positively effect business practices. He argues that empathy is at the heart of open communication, allowing for clarity and precision.
  • Krznaric also identified George Orwell as an "empathy hero", praising his efforts to empathise with people who lived on the social margins.
  • What is the best way to ease someone's pain and suffering? In this RSA Short, Dr Brené Brown argued that we can only create a genuine empathic connection if we are brave enough to really get in touch with our own fragilities.
  • See also: Five experts on Empathy at TED and Halcyon's Empathy archive.
  • According to Daniel Pink in a Whole New Mind, logical, linear "left-brain" thinking dominated the Industrial Age, but relationship-oriented "right-brain" thinking will shape the "Conceptual Age" and Pink believes that "symphonic thinking" will come of age.