“True empathy’s impossible. But if a piece of fiction can allow us imaginatively to identify with a character’s pain, we might then also more easily conceive of others identifying with their own. This is nourishing, redemptive; we become less alone inside. It might just be that simple.” – David Foster Wallace
Empathy and creativity keep coming up in conversation – certainly while following current events in the news, and also around the “water cooler” at Elements.
Jami kicked off my recent obsession with the concept of empathy when she shared the Harvard Business Review article, “Empathy is Still Lacking in the Leaders Who Need It Most.” Ernest J Wilson summarizes his 3-year study that identified “five critical attributes executives must have to succeed in today’s digital, global economy.” They are:
Wilson’s research shows that empathy is by far the most desirable of the five “Third Space attributes.” And in today’s world of hyper-connectivity (there is no longer any such thing as the passive audience, customer, employee or team-member), “you must be sincerely interested in understanding other cultural preferences and choices.”
I’d argue that empathy is the foundation of all the five the attributes above. When we practice true empathy, it helps us learn many, many things along with developing those other attributes.
“Imagination is not only the uniquely human capacity to envision that which is not – and therefore the fount of all invention and innovation – in its’ arguably most transformative and revelatory capacity it is the power that enables us to empathize with humans whose experiences we have never shared.” ― J.K. Rowling
Elements has been developing a number of programs using creativity as a way to explore and practice what we teach. (A recent Leadership Intensive session featured a workshop, “Tuning In,” led by musician Dan Rubright showing what music theory can teach us about leadership and team dynamics.
I think we are tapped into a growing “creative empathy” movement. The philosopher Roman Krznaric calls it the art of “outrospection.” But, I really love the way Matt D’Arrigo, a national leader in the creative youth development movement, mashed up the power of empathy, music and art in a recent talk to a Creative Mornings group in San Diego.
Matt’s message goes something like this: Empathy is fundamental for authentic, positive relationship. Empathy allows us to learn – from people, from experience, from disappointment, and from joy. Storytelling – especially (in his case) music, art – are the most powerful ways to truly learn and feel what other people are feeling.
We need to learn a lot – about ourselves and others – to practice empathy. That involves listening, vulnerability, understanding and emotion. Music, art and writing can help make the conversations more relatable and accessible for people who see the world very differently.
How did you practice empathy in the past week?
What innovative ways do you create understanding with people you interact with?
What do you think distinguishes empathy and sympathy?