Sunday, December 13, 2009

Curious about Empathy: How Important Is It to You? Do You Have It or Need to Work on It?

When you start to develop your powers of empathy and imagination, the whole world opens up to you.” - Susan Sarandon, American actress

We need somebody who's got the heart, the empathy, to recognize what it's like to be a young teenage mom, the empathy to understand what it's like to be poor or African-American or gay or disabled or old - and that's the criterion by which I'll be selecting my judges.” - Barack Obama, American President

I have been reading Daniel Pink’s fascinating “mind altering” book,A Whole New Mind: Why Right-Brainers Will Rule the Future.” Being more of a right brained person (creative, imaginative, artistic, and a storyteller), I am excited about Pink’s approach.

In his words, “The last few decades have belonged to a certain kind of person with a certain kind of mind – computer programmers who could crank code, lawyers who could craft contracts, MBAs who could crunch numbers. But the keys to the kingdom are changing hands. The future belongs to a very different kind of person with a very different kind of mind – creators and empathizers, pattern recognizers, and meaning makers. These people – artists, inventors, designers, storytellers, caregivers, consolers, big picture thinkers – will now reap society’s richest rewards and share its greatest joys.”

Pink devotes a whole chapter to empathy, listing assessments, learning about facial expressions from Paul Ekman, evesdropping, playing an interactive “whose life?” exercise. He also suggests that we empathize on the job, take an acting class, get mind reading, don’t outsource our empathy, and volunteer.

I didn’t find many quotations using the word “empathy” but the ones I did find were all quite positive in flavor. Let me share a few:
  • There is also a natural and very, very strong empathy with the underdog, with people who have suffered, people who have been pushed around by foreigners in particular, but also by their own people.” - Lakhdar Brahimi, International Public Servant
  • True contentment comes with empathy.” - Tim Finn, New Zealand musician
  • If your emotional abilities aren't in hand, if you don't have self-awareness, if you are not able to manage your distressing emotions, if you can't have empathy and have effective relationships, then no matter how smart you are, you are not going to get very far.” - Daniel Goleman, American author
  • Learning is a result of listening, which in turn leads to even better listening and attentiveness to the other person. In other words, to learn from the child, we must have empathy, and empathy grows as we learn.” - Alice Miller, Swiss psychologist
  • Poets have to be sensitive to their audience, but it does not mean that they censor themselves. I realize my audience is diverse. Some will read with empathy and curiosity while others will take offense.” - John Barton, Canadian poet
  • The discoveries of how we can grow and the insights we need to have really come from the inside out. To have genuine empathy, not as a make-nice tool but as an understanding, is essential to the next step.” - Patricia Sun, American philosopher and communicator
  • The great gift of human beings is that we have the power of empathy.” - Meryl Streep, American actress

And one that should put a smile on your face:

I have absolutely no empathy for camels. I didn't care for being abused in the Middle East by those horrible, horrible, horrible creatures. They don't like people. It's not at all like the relationship between horses and humans.” - Rachel Weisz, British actress

So, check yourself. How empathic are you? I also suggest reading this refreshing book by Daniel Pink. Let me know what you think.