Empathy increases understanding, productivity, and drives innovative solutions to various problems in the workplace, economy, and society. Developing socially conscious solutions requires the ability to discover issues and deal with those issues from multicultural perspectives. Empathy is crucial to understanding the motivations that drive others to act the way they do.
Empathy ≠ Sympathy
It is important to note that empathy and sympathy are not synonymous. Sympathy is the feeling of sorrow for somebody else’s misfortune. Empathy, on the other hand, is the ability to understand another person’s feelings. Those feelings can be happy, sad, or something altogether different.
Why Empathy Is Important
We are often quick to make judgments of others’ actions. We often assume that poor decisions are a result of a person’s irresponsibility or their individual lack of intelligence, willpower, etc. Many times this is the case. However, many times poor decisions are a result of poor available choices. Sometimes a child is obese because they simply eat too much. Sometimes they’re obese because there exists no safe place for them play. “Last school year, 258 public school students were shot in Chicago, 32 fatally, on their way to or from school, traveling through gang-infested territory and narcotics wars on the South and West Sides,” states an article from the NY Times. Do you think these students are concerned more about choosing organic products at the local grocery store, or making it home alive? For these kids, there is a lack of positive choices, which leads them to make undesirable decisions. Youth Advocates Programs, Inc. recruits, educates, and trains advocates from within the community to help create safer environments for these kids and others, which lead to better options from which to choose. These advocates are well-equipped to empathize with those who need help because they’ve been there themselves.
When we take empathy into account, we start to uncover some of the root issues that cause larger scale problems, which, in turn, lead to more sustainable solutions. I’d like to hear your opinions and stories of empathy. What issues would you like to bring to light? How do you feel the use (or lack of use) of empathy will work (or not work) in evaluating decisions and coming up with viable solutions to issues?