How much do you know about empathy?
Here, this month is a time of reflection about the diversity of expression and kindness that unites us in the UK. So what is empathy? Often confused with sympathy (feeling sorry for others), empathy is an ability to step into the other person’s emotional space. It is an ability to feel with them. We can do this in three way: cognitively, emotionally or acting with compassion. We can do this in a one-to-one setting, in groups, in cultures and, of course, online too.
Empathy can be tricky for those of us who work in carrying professions – too much empathy affects our ability to make rational decisions and support others more objectively. So during coaching and counselling training, we develop all three forms of empathy but also work on empathy regulation – we learn to turn the volume up or down to serve our clients in the best possible way. We learn, as my supervisor once said, to “keep one foot in our boat”.
So this month is also about rest and restoration. As some of us on the European continent go back to socialising in person, we also start to reflect on the pandemic, which in many cases divided us physically, but thanks to digital technologies, brought us closer together. We have reconnected with our close circles, neighbours and local communities. We donated heaps of money to local charities. We grounded ourselves in nature. We have changed.
This week I was hosting digital wellbeing for charity leaders in Wales and came away with fantastic ideas to support the best digital wellbeing practice in this incredibly demanding industry. All of us in the room reflected on the shifts in how leaders approach “going back” to the office. Some organisations emerged wiser and more robust, but many went back to the old ways of doing things with stronger negative feelings about digital.
Many leaders, however, learned that everything feels different. And that digital wellbeing is critical for our success. Margaret Heffernan once said here in Bristol: “history does not repeat itself, it never has”. I agree with her wholeheartedly. If we have not learned from this experience when will we learn?
So why is empathy so important?
Well, first of all, it helps us understand how other people are. We all have our own experiences of reality. We are diverse. We are unique. Empathy connects us, especially over artificial, often binary divides. So as we celebrate the multitudes of human experience, please join me in exploring empathy – the glue that holds our species together.
It also reconnects us with ourselves. To feel with others, we need to open up to the idea of deep feelings. We need to attune ourselves with our sense of being. We slow down, rest and reflect. What have we learned? What are the opportunities for a better tomorrow? What is good digital wellbeing? How can we work, play, spend time together and use digital innovation to facilitate deep, trusted, healthy human connections?
I explore those topics here at Voxel Hub every day, and I am so grateful that you are on this journey with us. It is a quiet month for us, but we do have a content campaign about empathy launching on Instagram. We hope you will find it inspiring.
I wish you a sunny and kind June. Stay safe and stay connected to the broader world around you.
My favourite topic this month
Learning about empathy links to the theory of developing mind and predictive feelings. I would like to recommend the following three key books:
“The Developing Mind” by Daniel J. Siegel
“How Emotions Are Made” by Lisa Feldman Barrett
“Against Empathy: The Case for Rational Compassion” by Paul Bloom
I hope you will find those sources useful. If you have a recommendation on this topic, please do let me know!
Developing empathy skills:
To work on our empathy skills, it is worth exploring what empathy means in practice and learn more about active listening:
Watch this short animation and listen to Brené Brown’s explanation of empathy
Check out this fantastic new book published in support of the Samaritans in the UK on the art of good listening
Listen to Celeste Headlee for ten top tips on improving our art of conversation
I hope the above links are useful, but please let me know your tips too.
Stay safe, stay well!
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