Building Social and Cultural Empathy: Elizabeth Segal and Edwin Rutsch



hi I'm a I'm a to enrich director the Center for building a culture of empathy and we're here to talk about how are you gonna build a more empathic Society and I'm with Elizabeth Segal is that that cancer right yeah so great well thanks for joining me for this discussion really looking forward to it thank you so I just wanted to introduce you've got some notes here first years social policy analyst with the background and professional social work and your current research is on social empathy you know how to apply to apply empathic insight into better social welfare policies and programs and you've written over the years you've written many academic papers with which I've read and really enjoyed reading is influenced my work on the topic of empathy and you're also the author of a new book social empathy the art of understanding others and co-author of more academic book assessing empathy and which you cut which you wrote with two other two other co-authors and you've got a blog and a website at social empathy org and I really enjoy your periodic articles that you've put out they're always very timely and related to current sort of current events that are happening around empathy and I see that you're also working on a compendium of methods to teach social empathy and on some ways of measuring it it currently is your current sir anything else by way of introduction like the site no that's great okay well I just want to start off with you know since you've been working on empathy for you know quite some time what you know what the why of it why did you get started in on you know working on this theme so you know seriously and deeply well actually I didn't know I was working and originally and about literally 20 years ago when I was teaching I have been teaching throughout my career on public policy to Social Work students and most Social Work students come in and are not exactly interested in public policy so it was always a challenge it's always a challenge to get them engaged and so I would find ways to try to make it relevant to them and what I found while teaching um almost consistently is that students who there were some students who got it and some students who did it and again public policy feels very large and macro so what I was trying to do is make it personal what I discovered is that in spite of what may have been very good compassionate empathic feelings some people didn't were not able to share that in a larger scale and that's where what started me on trying to understand why do some people understand empathy well in a personal way and why do some people not get it in a larger way and that's what started me on this journey to try to figure it out and that's how I developed the concept of social entity oh sorry if you can you're saying that some of the students could sort of relate personally fantastically and be sensitive but when they were thinking of sort of macro policies they just couldn't think of groups in an empathic question and larger social issues so that they might say oh I felt really bad when my friend got really sick and lost her job and she didn't have enough money and health care was a problem and so we all rallied around her friends we all brought dinners and helped her and they got that so then when I'd say well what about health care for all like oh well not everybody you know we're just talking about our friend and it was very obvious that they could have very insightful feelings for someone they knew but not somebody they didn't know or groups they didn't know and so and that would would was always the case with issues like poverty that seems I don't want to say always but I mean there are always students who just could not apply understanding and feeling what people were going through who they didn't know or didn't understand so is it your you you were wanting to foster like a broader vision of empathy so trying to those students who didn't have that larger sense of empathy for the larger social social context you are to find ways of reaching them and absolutely and and I started trying to figure out is it tolerance is it compassion and I ended up thinking well you know I'm a social worker so I was trained and understood the concept of empathy but I never studied it deeply and so what brought me into empathy was trying to figure this out then I discovered it actually that because my background was strongly in public policy I actually didn't understand empathy because almost all the literature at that time certainly was psychology hmm though I had some background in that I'm not a psychologist so I actually engaged one of my colleagues who I think you've been to read a long time ago Karen Gerdes oh yes and who had a much stronger background in psychology as a social worker as opposed to me I had an in public policy sociology and we discovered all the emerging neuroscience the cognitive neuroscience which had it was in its earliest stages really and so that set me on the path of studying first really learning about interpersonal empathy and understanding it psychologically as well as neurologically and then going back to this concept I had a social empathy but I need first to learn about interpersonal mm-hm so say that neuroscience is kind of given it that physiological or scientific basis and so it's been a shift yeah I mean it what it's done and and I at least in my reading of the literature almost consistently is it's it's it's mapped brain paths that can be seen through the medical research of residents you know F MRIs and seeing the paths that our brains use to do skills or parts of empathy that psychologists have long thought of thought existed but couldn't see it you know they watched people but they couldn't see in their brain so I found that fascinating that there was this tremendous validation through the neuroscience of what psychologists had seen and monitored up through observation okay so your motivation was as I'm just ending it is your social worker you're wanting sort of social well-being foster social well-being you're seeing students who are able to connect kind of personally with yes in small groups they're not able to connect who will get the largest societal groups and then you're sort of on this journey to try to teach or have them learn about everything so how did that know any more about the so the next steps that happen for this today on a different journey of research but also you know reading but also trying out actually in developing instruments to measure interpersonal empathy we worked on I had a wonderful team of college students and colleagues and students who are now colleagues and we did a lot in terms of trying to figure out what was the jumping off point from personal empathy to a larger scale and we really discovered that there's two skills generally the first is they're both cognitive they're both learned skills but the first is understanding context so we're always going to come across people that are different than us and people who experience different things even people we think are the same as we are because they might like us they've had different experiences but certainly people who don't look like us clearly have had different life experiences there's a way to learn about their life experiences in part from interacting and talking to them but in large part from understanding context and historical context and I realized that seemed to be the critical piece when I taught students okay so you don't you you don't understand what it's like to be poor in a different community in a different country in a different racial or ethnic group so how can you understand that you understand you might try to understand being poor in your own community but how do you transfer it and so it was really studying about content so that was the first learn cognitive skill mmm I can't cognitive skill that was necessary is to then really imagine yourself in that other person or in that other groups place and that's not imagining yourself as if you are in their shoes but imagine you know making yourself into their situation but that you literally live in their situation um so what would happen if one day you woke up and you were a different race or you were a different gender or you were a different sexual orientation or have different physical abilities and really lived that and we know that's empathy but it's empathy put on understanding completely different context and a different culture a different group life experience and that's what social empathy and when we do that I think we we have the ability to make create better public policies because we stand what people who are different than us need not what we think we would need in their situations ok so maybe a good point to talk about what we mean by empathy and I'm still confused it's like it's just it's so confusing I've talked to you know so many academics so forth you know and they're all kind of using the word differently different yields are using it you know kind of differently there's the same term it has multiple you know definition the word since it's like it's uh it's quite confusing so how are you you know really defining it maybe we can kind of compare notes to like you know I've think I talked to Dan Batson who you probably know but I'm sure you know he studied empathy for like 4050 years or whatever and he wrote some good I thought papers on empathy the definitions he just lays out of the different definitions of it and he acknowledges it's very confusing he says the best thing you can do is have your definition and then stick to it so people know what you mean by when you're talking about empathy well I think in general I use the concept of feeling and understanding the feelings of other people's experiences so it's sharing experience and understanding what that other person is going through in that experience and then I divided into interpersonal empathy which is using those skills of understanding one-on-one and then social empathy using those skills to understand larger groups okay so but what what I also feel is that why empathy stated as definition is that I think it can well so what we've worked on with my team is using the neuroscience and psychology and what we know about sociology as well as social workers we put together we've identified seven skills five of which make up interpersonal empathy and an additional two that bring you further along into social apotheke and I've kind of talked about the two skills for social empathy so I think that that why empathy is so complicated is that there's an unconscious sort of Foundation that triggers us and then there's a cognitive learned way of understanding that layers on top of that and those all and it's different skills that come together for the full array of empathy the problem is some people write about only the physiological unconscious piece and call that empathy which in the in the literature it's more often considered affective response and then or trade empathy there's different ways that people use it the cognitive parts are perspective taking and emotion regulation and self other awareness and those all together create empathy which is why it's so difficult because it's not just one very simple plug this in and now your empathic mmm-hmm it's not like an umbrella term there's a lot of different components with under that umbrella and then it's like you need to sort of differentiate the different different aspects of it and I think the advantage of the differentiation of the aspects is we can teach empathy in parts so that for example for example affective response that that feeling you have that's unconscious somebody trips in front of you and you feel like you're falling or someone yawns we oh you know you yawn unconsciously there are people for example survivors of traumatic pto post-traumatic stress syndrome people who survived traumatic events particularly for example living through a war have turned off a lot of those have worked to turn off that affective response because it who works in traumatic or ward a war zone you have to always be alert but you can't live if you're constantly on the edge of total alertness so you you camp it down which would mean that somebody who was experiencing traumatic stress might need to work on opening up those feeling and letting them back out while the rest of the parts of empathy may work fine whereas somebody who does that unconsciously buts never learned to walk in the shoes of another person or think about another person you'd have to work with them on that so by dividing the components and you mentioned the first book that my team that we co-authored and we that was our scholarly look at all the components okay so for me that I just may share a little of how I'm seeing empty it starts I think for me I've been you know trying to define it in that it starts with the premise and the premise is that we we feel that as I go through life I have felt bodily sensations and and even when I'm dreaming I feel right I just have feelings in my body I'm not quite sure what happens it when I'm not dreaming you know on that space I think they're still felt the experience like if somebody sticks a needle you know in you you'll gonna you're gonna wake up or if there's a loud noise and you hear that so we have a the premise that we are feeling beings that have senses and you know cold warm constricted relaxed etc and there's a whole bunch of feelings and that other people have feelings so I have feelings and other people have feelings though I guess that for me the is the origination of empathy was in feeling or from the German so it's it's the quality of feeling into my own experience of self empathy like what am I now and I'm like feeling anxious am i feeling calm am I feeling curious am I feeling excited so sensing into my own feelings as well as feeling into someone else and you know you're across I'm seeing your face I'm seeing you nodding I just see a little smile I can sort of feel that little smile again and and I can see the nodding and so I can feel into your sense of sort of concentration and your sense of focus I have a sense of that I can feel more into your experience so that's sort of like an initial and I can be conscious or you know not conscious you know totally aware of those feelings and so that's what I would call empathy is just feeling you know into someone's experience we're doing it all the time like we're just like in that sense where it's sort of like awash in empathy it's like we're just empathizing all the time to varying levels and degrees and they can it can be constricted like you're saying with with the trauma somebody's trying to shut down their sense of awareness and feelings it's just too much for them to take on or something so that's like the first step for me I'm just wondering how that right I think that's an important piece of it and that's the most people that's the beginning yeah but I think that the difference between feeling someone else and empathy is taking it the step further and trying to understand what they're feeling and that becomes more cognitive we don't because if we don't think about it we're apt to respond like we would respond so you know most of us respond the same way if a needle sticks us in the finger because that's got a physiological response but someone may scream at whoever did it and say why did you do that I mean they may have a whole different response and you may say well they did it because I'm sure there's a good reason and I'll wait to see and those are two different responses to the same physiological reaction and if you respond differently than I do my empathic insight is to try to figure out how we're different you're responding the way you are yes I would I would say that that we're sort of emphasizing on an ongoing basis sort of is a first step but then the empathy is sort of feeling into kind of going deeper behind perhaps it's sort of the process of going the deeper maybe the feelings or the motivations or the needs or what are behind that so sort of an in feeling sess as sort of so the first part I think that's maybe so but yet they are calling effective which it's bit of academic term but I like just sort of the empathy or feel yeah is that kind of how does that yeah the problem that I was worried about is when we have those feelings that become compassion which is a good to be a positive feeling but it gets confused as empathy or sympathy gets confused as empathy and those aren't um passion I feel your pain I feel your your your trauma or your your travails but I don't necessarily understand them I may not even imagine what you're going through and it can be but rather hierarchical compassion is often I'm in a good place you're not I mean same thing with sympathy so I'm I always worry when we think feeling for somebody and feeling having feelings for them is always empathy because it's not empathy is that next step of what what are you going through yeah that's how I see as well is it the the sympathy the perhaps compassion the personal distress the all the do various reactions you may have can actually be a block to the empathy right if I'm trying to be present this is like just typical you know the core of like perhaps active listening in the therapeutic sense like Carl Rogers and his work being with the client staying present with them following them on their journey if I suddenly am following you on your journey and then I say oh I feel so sorry for you it's like I've gone to my journey I'm no longer present with you as well as if hey I'm on your journey I'm getting frightened then I'm like back on to my journey and even terms like that's just for example the confusion like you have like people are using the word empathic distress I would even say it's my be something a reaction that you have but it's no longer empathy it's exactly it's like that what they're calling some people are calling empathic distress I would just say it's this personal distress it means you're not able to stay present with in an empathic way with the other person so and there's so many different things they can kind of get you from being present with someone to being into your own journey and so I think that's what you're addressing with the sympathy and the compassion you're not staying present with the other person necessarily and the two components that are we have identified is the idea that there's self other awareness that maintained this awareness that I'm experiencing your feelings I'm sharing them but they're your feelings yeah and emotion regulation which is you should I mean obviously if someone's sad and telling you a sad story of course I feel sad but the emotion regulation is built on that cell father awareness that I'm really sad for you but I don't need to be paralyzed and in a state of sadness which you might be in or asset or it could be a good feeling euphoria it's not my euphoria and so emotion regulation is a really critical skill that I realized in studying empathy with all my years of professional training that probably was the piece that I never learned and didn't learn well in terms of empathy is enter into someone's feelings like you're talking about and not be swept away and overwhelmed and I think by people you know that's this whole dark sides of empathy in my opinion is really not grappling with emotion regulation and blaming empathy for a skill that we need to have which is distancing not in a cold and uncaring way but distancing ourselves not to own not to live someone else's emotions yeah that's exactly I think those are these subtle kind of differences are huge in a Mis Experion Experion shil level they're very they're big differences but that kind of just gets over they get kind of mixed up in the different debates and discussions and I think there's another part to with that self other differentiation is it you know I don't really know what people mean by empathy when they say you're feeling someone else's feelings like there is as I understand it with the neuroscience and so forth is that if I'm following your feelings there are you know my neurons are firing you know feeling what it is that you're feeling so it's sort of a mirroring but there are other neurons that tell you that this is not your feeling necessarily that they're that you this is somebody else's feeling so you don't feel the full experience of the other person's feeling you're feeling like it's it's sort of contained with that self other differentiation there's actual neurons that help you do that as well as like in the physical touch there's there's there's served by ology that actually supports that understanding and and the biology is that the brain activity for self-awareness is it is it looks different than the mirroring and so on the mirroring of pain or of happiness or whatever it is so so that's exactly what it is is that now that we know from neuroscience and cognitive brain imaging that indeed the brain and our Millah milliseconds apart you know it feels instantaneous to us but they are different actions and that means we need to learn different skills and put them together that that's why I think it's so complicated I don't think empathy is one thing I think empathy is a combination of seven skills that when we develop all of them and we can call on all of them in a given time you know I think you can be the most well trained and pass and have a bad day you mm-hmm I mean you know we all have where it's hard to connect and that's human and perfectly normal so it's not a guarantee that you won you have to learn the skills and two that you can engage all of them at once all the time yeah you can have be tired you can be exhausted and that's those type of things are going to affect you know inhibit your your empathy also this quality of it seems that you can do these these different qualities like I can be emphasizing this you know I can momentarily step in the sympathy but then come back to you so you can have multiple aspects kind of happening you know simultaneously to kind of be going in and out so it's not like hey I'm totally antastic with you and I'm so it changes from moment to moment these things these feelings can seem to happen at the same time to like part of your brain is being very empathic and the other is kind of think taking oh it's well you know having thoughts you know judgments or something they're kind of blood so it's a it's pretty complicated these complications seem to get glossed over in the typical you know writings about it and I would add even more complication to it is that I can also choose to take action or not take action I can omit I can truly imagine you're going through but then feel as if or think through that a path of action that you might take is not appropriate so I can I can this is where we always think empathy means were soft and compassionate and we let people do whatever they need to do because we're being empathic and that's not true at all empathy is the tool to understand why they're doing something but we are free to make suggestions not make any suggestions support actions disagree with actions those are separate and I think we often lump together into empathy the actions that we might take as a result of that now we do know and Daniel Batson's work is very on this that aroused senses of empathy do lead to typically pro-social behavior and we have altruism and we have lots of good things that come out of empathy but that doesn't necessarily mean you have to do that it's nuanced yeah and then there's also the quality of if you start feeling sympathy the action might be an action based on what would be good for you yes like you're not really solving the other brand that's like you know that one of the the the you know charity work and so forth these people like in developing countries or even with the poor is like oh I'm helping you but I'm really just trying to solve my own distress and there's no longer a presence you're like a co design of the addressing the real problem for example you know I'll share a problem I'm having with someone and those are right to advice want to advise me on what to do I get so irritated with that because one they're not even seeing the real problem they haven't given time and space for me to really get to the core of the problem that I'm having and so they're kind of like solving their own problem you know in their own head but not really you know having seen what the real problem is so there's kind of those nuances as well and in public policy unfortunately we see that a lot so for example um I was I'm thinking of a particular example I was lucky enough to travel to South Africa and visit a lot of communities and one of the villages that I that the people I was with a foundation and they worked with lots of villages and lots of particularly AIDS orphans but they were one of the villages we visited they showed me on the top of the hill this beautiful health clinic and they told me this great this great classic story the community needed health care there was no doubt about it and that was a good thing to build a clinic but these charitable groups from outside forgot one important thing and that was to include community members and I know that for a lot of us who do community work and who infuse it with social empathy well duh you would include the the community groups but they missed that point and somehow in the building of it with all these white people building this clinic unit II thought it was something different than what it was and we're very frightened of it and so here they spent all this money now the first reaction was these people don't use it what's wrong with them they don't understand the need for health care and so they were blaming the community when they finally did a little research and were open to it and discovered that their mistake they brought in the medicine doctors the medicine people from the community asked them to visit get engaged hold their ceremonies at the clinic and we know Tommy oh and then eventually the clinic became exactly what it was built to be but they didn't get buy-in because they didn't walk in the shoes of other people they thought they did they weren't they were building something useful so that's that first part you were talking about oh this is you what the problem you're having I understand that problem but then they didn't walk in their shoes they didn't actually imagine what the folks for whom they wanted to build this clinic would need feel want and of course have they involvement they might have even designed it differently but from public policy that happens that's a concrete example the country but I can find you fools of examples in our country of how I mean right now the the treatment of children immigrant children refugee children at the border there's no parent I believe involved in public policy that would want his or her own child to be living like that I think if you could tell them that's your child they would change the policy the problem is they don't see these children as those like their own children and so that's a huge breakdown in empathy and in social empathy it has significant implications in creating very punitive and horrible policies well there is that there in the human Center design community which is a very design oriented process it has something called Co design where you work together with people your design for it's not just designer seeing the other is sort of an app you know some way we're designing for but really listening mutually listening and having those dialogues and that sort of a co neutral you know dialogue back and forth to sort of integrate the different ideas and views to come up with something sort of like a empathic action yes that there's an action where we're both working together and I see that in mediation and conflict mediation I think they're sort of an arc and conflict mediation that you know people are totally pissed off with each other barely talking you bring them together maybe the mediator empathizes with each side to get them to start feeling heard and seen and then it starts trying to get them to empathize with each other you know with whatever practices empathic listening or whatever they start understanding each other and then you have the question as well what are we going to do now and one person suggests well what if we get together at a cafe every week to talk about these issues and and then the other person says well that works with me how about 10 o'clock in the morning so I can't do 10 o'clock how about two o'clock and then they sort of negotiate you know code design and negotiate and everyone has a voice and you just kind of move forward it seems like the same art I just see and in a larger sense with public policy or anything if there's that co.design aspect and with what you're describing is the process of getting to know the other person while you're coco designing in theory fits but in and and validly creates different pathways to connect people so that the us them divide or the me you divide becomes us and we get to know each other so that's part of also empathy that we know from from lots of good research that it's harder to empathize with someone who's different than you and that's part of it is that they're unknown they don't we don't know them we put up sort of barriers because they're different than us and so ironically the kind of of code you know of code designing has the same this also has the effect of bridging differences because you meet in the afternoon and I want to meet in the morning you like coffee I like tea we start to become friends in that regard when we're really working on this project and that's what is much harder to do on large scale it's you know I mean it's hard enough to do one on one yeah and to do it with groups it becomes very difficult but working on tasks and Co designing is a great way for groups to work together I did want to go back just to you know that the things that block empathy and you'd so hinted like I think it was towards some criticisms you know the dark side of empathy and one of the critics of empathy is Paul bloom and you know you've written the response to him and that there is that difference there of of what he is criticizing is and if I'm listening to you I'm following you on your journey I'm sort of empathizing with you and then something and then you go into tears or you get into anger and then whatever whatever you know really strong emotion that you have his definition of empathy is that while he goes into that so you're getting angry I get angry sort of match your state in full body or you go into tears and you know he talks about going to his therapist he doesn't want to go to his therapist where if he's in tears that is you know therapist goes into tears too so that's I think that that's a real important part of that self other differentiation and the difference between staying with someone on their journey versus No and these are subtle things that it's easy to confuse like well yeah and I think he's a few what those examples are complete emotional contagion with empathy that when I match your emotions in a way that is not my emotions anymore all I've done is near you and I'm can its emotion contagion as opposed to empathy which requires that these are your feelings self other awareness and also emotion regulation and one thing we know and some research that we did on Social Work practitioners the most senior practitioners reported the highest levels of emotion regulation well the longer they stayed in the profession the better they got so Bloom is absolutely right you don't want a therapist crying when we start crying you want a therapist to feel you are crying and understand why you're crying and to work with you in that regard but not fall apart and be just be a mirror image and good therapists don't I mean they know about regulation they learn it and so that's real empathy not emotion contagion yeah that's that's a great point that's in fact what he is describing as a criticism of empathy is something that blocks empathy like so that's just adds to this total you know you know this you know trying to get these are subtle things to kind of get across but they're huge and the visceral bonding of the experience of it is is people really sense the difference between being empathized with and and you know being sympathized with I mean is it especially in these fields like in the therapeutic world yeah a lot of experience with this the saying that's attributed to Maya Angelou people don't remember what you say but they remember how you made them feel and I think that's what empathy is that it's it's how you respond to them not what you sow back to your example where you haven't you know you're you're troubled by something and then the person starts giving you advice yeah you didn't hear them at all but you certainly felt they're not hearing you and so you remember yeah you feel that that disconnection that alienation so yeah it's strong yeah which is not to say that if somebody were deeply empathic they could also give advice that could be the academic but you're more likely to hear their advice if you don't if you felt so you're more likely to heed their advice if you feel heard and understood yeah and it's also eiders in the third I mean there's a lot of the work gear in the therapeutic world they've had a lot of time and you know really study this is that is it or comes a time when you're sort of open at first you just want a sense of connection you want a sense of being heard and understood and then you're you're inviting advice instead of being kind of pushed on you and you kind of are open and ready and receptive for it and that's another part of empathy as being sensitive to knowing when that time is there even with the other person sort of requesting it okay I feel heard I'm open for some ideas and so you know that's another sort of a subtle piece to it so the the other thing is in terms of the definitions we're going really into definitions here I really appreciate the nuances I don't know that you have of you know understanding that really what's happening empathy is something that's called the cognitive empathy and I really dislike the term cognitive yeah it just seems like it's come out of the academic you know the neuroscience whatever and with the term I like is imaginative empathy I think it's sexier is that what you think about this is it there's a as human beings we have the ability to role take on roles we can take on I can imagine being you I can you know like Meryl Streep I can imagine you know she imagines being you know Julia Child or Margaret sure whoever and she sort of really embodies the role takes it on and just has it you know really and and so that's another part of empathy is that we can imagine ourselves in any person's role and feel into the experience of oh and I see this in mediation too when we do mediation training that people take on the role of someone who's perhaps not in the mediation like if there's a family dispute the father isn't you know able to take part and then the facilitator takes on the role of the father and and you just hear a little bit of the father he's you know very introverted he's very strict and then you just take on that role and it's amazing how how that person stands in for that person so that seems to be the you know the the other aspect of I'm just feeling into someone else's experience we can sort of take on this imaginative empathy role we can actually take on the role of anything like you can be an animal you can be a carrot you can be a turn up I mean it's like I think Einstein you imagined himself being a beam of light you know what would happen if I'm just being light so that's yeah what I just wonder how that resonates what you think about that well I think the cognitive empathy is thinking and it's the part of empathy also that I that I see as teachable I mean I can teach someone help someone to recognize their Physiol and physiological reactions but that happens unconsciously so back to what we came out the the part of if I if someone hits you and you're feeling pain my brain will imagine as if I'm feeling pain totally unconsciously that's the affective part the the cognitive empathy piece is what they call cognitive empathy I think are the thinking parts that I'm imagine which is imagination to imagine what it's like to be you I have to use my thinking parts of my brain Wow what would it be like to be in his shoes what would it be like if that happened to me what if I were in that place or time and so I consider it feeling and thinking so the effect of its the feeling and the cognitive is the thinking and so role-playing is a very specific training we do to get people to think like others now where it's complicated back to what we're talking about there they're almost instantaneous and remember if I start thinking look you know if I imagine okay I'm the angry father or the introverted father or the whatever I start to physically do that so there it's a sort of a feedback loop of I'm mirroring something that I imagined so that I'm getting into the part which is why many actors will say it's exhausting to play that part because you've literally immersed yourself physically as well as mentally emotionally cognitively so um I I don't I don't think there's effective empathy and cognitive empathy as two separate things but I do think there's affective and cognitive parts that come together to make empathy does that yeah there's yeah I guess there's there's every word is has different meanings so even thinking what is it like for example what I was trying to wouldn't the answer I do is like define it in terms of what we're doing here like where are we thinking like in the moment like you know what where is the thinking happening like I'm moving my hands you're sort of feeling into the energy of that like yeah this has been going on for us since we were children since we were very young so it doesn't feel cognitive thinking like okay I have to study for this exam I'm gonna I gotta open this book and study that's thinking it's not quite that obvious anymore if we're but for people who who are learning to be empathic who maybe missed out on it they have to actively say okay what if I were in your shoes I think have been studying empathy we're probably interested in studying it for years because we've been probably higher on an empathic skill we've responded we felt people in like what's going on why do I feel other people's feelings all the time so it's it's been something that is feels innate but I would argue and I try to think back to my childhood and watching other children growing up and and raising children and watching how there's little things that happened when we're growing up that taught us the cognitive thinking imaginative part of empathy as almost a normal a as almost an unconscious part so you know think back to that that time when you at some point we're all when we were children or I've watched with children I've worked with you know where they hit another child and the adult response might be imagine if you were the one getting hit how would you feel and they and they and I have to really worry that like someone could hit me and it literally is teaching perspective taking and if you learn that at a very young age it becomes second nature so you think it's it's this whole feeling thing but I honestly believe it's a cognitive training that we learn just learned at a very young age yes this is where things are getting complicated for me because it seems that even empathizing into someone else's experience as we were talking so the feeling into is cognitive if cognitive is sort of happens in the brain is neurons sort of moving and casting and so it kind of gets like differentiating like where is the difference between just sensing into and you know real I don't know either I did I kind of stood on the continuum of unconscious to conscious maybe that's a better way of thinking of it we're triggered initially often unconsciously mm-hmm okay I didn't know you knock on my door cuz you're having a bad day I didn't even know you were coming over I don't know you're sad but I see this look in your face that just and you start to cry or tell me something so the unconscious kicks in right away right that's the beginning of this continuum and then I mean even a stranger I can see they're having a bad day I start unconsciously feeling it then we move into the conscious which is more and some of us do it faster and easier and don't I mean but but I mean even with all my my research am i working on empathy I often have like I'll have young colleagues who say to me that really affect your in a meeting and they'll say what that person said really offended me and think that I'm empathic and I'm understanding and I'm reading people and I and I didn't pick it up because I didn't sit in her shoes at that moment so that's really conscious where I have to be told what someone else experienced and I think that that a lot of us do that willingly because we we've been on that continuum and we don't feel it's as abrupt but for some people who aren't used to tuning into other people when you call them on Tooting into other people it's very abrupt to them and very difficult and that's to them sort I worry I worry that's interpreted sometimes it's the dark side of empathy you're making me cry like you and get all emotional no I'm asking you to understand me this one's really difficult for me to explain but the idea of a continuum so there's sort of a continuum of empathy from sort of a not not consciously aware having it kind of it not having a model meant maybe mental the relationships sort of a mental model of relationships your your just experiencing to having a bigger mental model is that with that yes and I think those that I would not and along the way the mirroring can be just simply emotion contagion like if you don't travel down the continuum you run the risk of having other things happen like emotion contagion responses and that you need to go into that cognitive level and so because social empathy involves understanding groups and public policy there's a heavy cognitive component you really have to think through I will never be a pregnant teenager living in a poor impoverished neighborhood where there's dangers it's it mean time has passed me by I'm never gonna be that I never was that that takes a lot more cognitive thinking I need to learn about the context it's not just enough to share her that young teenage pregnant teenage girls feelings scared confused I need to understand the whole context and that's much more farther along a continuum of cognitive processes so that's what you mean by social empathy sort of creating a larger context of all the different factors and how those factors are interrelating and connecting with each other so you sort of create this I've heard the term mental models used just the the a map I guess could be of the carrot of the whole territory of how it's and so how do you create those models is that sort of yes because particularly in public policy the people who pass policy tend to be more powerful that's why they're you know they're elected to do that they also because they are in public policy positions that require give power and require power to get it they're not all of them but the vast majority of them have not had the life experiences of the people from their passing policies so big disconnect right there the bantha the– and how do you and then then so that's part a then part b is when you get them to try to think about what it would be like to be that other person you have to also get them to park what they would do because the way that they grew up was so different you can't assume that you're a VIIRS are the correct behaviors because you had a whole set of circumstances that brought you to this time in place so people in public making public policy are often way off-base in terms of experience but about the policies for whom they're making them so they're in sort of there can't you can see a sort of a bubble right there in their context bubble and there's the person they're making policy has their own context bubble right understand those context bubbles and sort of have them sort of integrate especially the policymakers context bubble has lots of power yeah they're making the policy doesn't don't have the options to make the policy or change it so there's a responsibility in that as well yeah so it's like the effect of power in terms of understanding other people so if you have your context you know what it's like to have all this power and and that because of effects your sort of actions and what does it feel like to have like no or little power and it's maybe hard to really kind of grasp that or feel it on top of that the research on power and empathy is that power actually blocks empathy because if not you know on the one hand if you're in charge if you felt every single person's working for you or constituents of yours if you walked in their shoes you'd be overwhelmed so there there is an element of people in power have to sort of parks there or compartmentalize some of their empathy to get things done but when they but when they do that they run the risk of not understanding the people for whom they're making policies yeah well I don't know I feel like we barely touched the surface I could talk to hey for the next eight hours considering the work you've done and when you you could talk about this yeah I hadn't wanted to go into the training aspect maybe we'll do another you know how do you learn and practice and deepened you know it maybe we can do another discussion you know on that if you've got time because I I just I just I really appreciate and enjoy the nuance that you know there's all these little nuances and I haven't studied it you know they you know you just sort they kind of get mushed together and you all this stuff has to be sort of taken apart to look at the differences and it has huge impact there's like the whole Paul bloom you know criticisms of empathy is you know it has an impact on people when they see these books against empathy there's a new one coming out the shadows dark side I'm gonna interview him too so maybe we can even I do something called empathy circles which I find is a really good sort of core practice it's mutual active listening so perhaps you could do an empathy circle with Fritz I think is his name from the shadows if you're interested in that so so I'm kind of rambling here because anyway would love to you know continue the conversation if you've got time at another time maybe we just talk about you know we've got an introduction sort of of the definition you know beginning here maybe a topic on just on how order the ways of training teaching and deepening and I think that empathy is a relatively new area of study I mean when you consider the fact that even the term didn't show up to a little over a hundred years ago and I appreciate the work that the empathic civilization Rifkin's book that that where we were evolving in that way I think that we're probably in the infancy or maybe the Apple essence stage of understanding empathy we have a lot more to go so and one of the big areas is also how do we teach other talking about that we're just starting to work on to really try to figure that out i we have a lot of research out there and a lot of ideas but it's not that easy but it's important yeah but there's real tangible benefits like you know we do an empathic listening we have this empathy panel we go in the public we do mediation we listen to people there is real visceral felt positive outcomes that happen you know and that's why I'm so you know because the best public policies that I've ever studied and and I'm you know in US history are ones that are made empathic insight those are good public policies so there's a lot riding on it in a macro sense as well oh and yeah in terms of you know there's this extinction rebellion movements are if you've heard of it there are the UK they've been doing social actions that raise the level of awareness of climate change and so they've done they're sort of like Occupy Wall Street 2.0 and it's just starting up and it's kind of spreading around the world I think I'm sure you'll hear more about it in the follow bees there'll be a lot of social actions so we started doing empathy circles with them and it's about seeing if we can bring empathy circle practice into that movement so perhaps we could do it you know another discussion just on trainings I think this is really the steps of how do we you know move these practices you know forward into this into the culture okay well thank you so much this is it's been really exciting and they are providing me and thank you for engaging in such a great conversation it's always interesting to think about it because it's so hard it helped to conceptualize and solidify ideas so thank you

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *