Empathy – the ability to step into the shoes of another person, aiming to understand their feelings and perspectives, and to use that understanding to guide our actions. ~Roman Krznaric

While Krznaric and some research suggested that Empathy is a ‘habit’ we can cultivate, I, on the other hand, believe that it is human nature that we are born with.

I learned that from my son, when he was two.

We were in the local supermarket. I was pushing the grocery cart while my two-year-old sat in the top of the cart. Suddenly, some baby burst out crying in the next aisle. My two-year-old was so concerned that he urged me to go ‘hold’ the baby. I told him that it was alright because the baby’s mother must be taking care of him. cryingbabyHe persisted and said, ‘His mother must not be doing a good job’, and he continued to push me to holding the baby. That was when I knew that empathy is a natural instinct.  He was confident that when he cried, I would be comforting him and holding him. By putting himself in the crying baby’s shoe, he understood the baby was in need of someone’s comforting. And his understanding guided his action to urge me to find the baby, to hold him and to comfort him.

Roman Krznaric’s Six Habits of Highly Empathic People outlined some very interesting ‘habits’ to think about. Some of them seem quite manageable such as Cultivate curiosity about strangers so that we can understand the world inside the head of the other person. Krznaric suggested talking to strangers, and that ‘all it requires is courage’, I might add that it also requires some risk taking as well, especially when we were brought up to not to talk to strangers.

Chimamanda Adichie’s Ted Talk about the danger of having only a single story resonates well with me, especially her following words,

“Single story creates stereotype.

The problem with stereotype is

Not that they are untrue, 

They are incomplete, they make one story the only story.”

Empathy requires wisdom (and common sense).

Whenever I hear about the jump-on-the-band-wagon mass actions inspired by single stories, I wish that I had the creativity and means to bring empathy into the picture; or at least (by borrowing Adichie’s words again) to raise an inquiry… What if my roommate knew about the other side’s arguments on China One-Child Policy?! Or about the Tibet Movement?oneChildPolicy2

As Seung Chan puts it in his Realizing Empathy video connecting creativity and empathy, ‘Only when you are willing to listen to a different perspective, will you be surprised by a new way of thinking.’ Here is the video.

Photos used in this article are licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic license.