The Empathy Initiative (About)

I’ve been working to learn more about empathy for well over a year. We saw Brene Brown’s fantastic short empathy film at a teacher training at Saddleback in 2016.

According to Brene, “Empathy fuels connection; sympathy drives disconnection.”

Sociopaths have cognitive empathy (as defined by Simon Baron-Cohen). They understand others’ emotions very well. They do not have affective empathy (they don’t care what other people are feeling, except insofar as how they may exploit the feelings for their own, primarily material, benefit).

I started this project because I believe it is the one way I can contribute most to others. I’ve been a popular teacher, have raised a lot of money, and have been a successful writer with the few readers I’ve been privileged to reach because I’m an empath. I do understand the feelings of others, most easily through physical presence, touch, and observation. Unlike sociopaths, empaths care about others.

Unlike other fields, empathy is all over the map. We can find mentions of it in psychology, sociology, education, business, management — virtually any human endeavor.

Yet our world, and the algorithms that now direct so much of it — are expressly unempathetic. Such a simple concept as “people don’t necessarily want to buy, read, eat, or do the exact same things as they bought, read, ate, or did previously” is clearly wrong based on rapidly-accelerating trends in mobile ads and social media participation.

The very words we use, for example, “disabled,” are unempathetic. This word literally says “You (I) lack ability.”

The one thing I learned about empathy in over a year of research is: everyone has it to some degree and it can not only be learned, empathetic abilities increase with time and practice. Schools in Denmark have empathy classes for all students from an early age. Denmark is noted for being “one of the world’s happiest countries.” In Danish empathy classes, students spend about an hour talking about each others’ feelings and things that have happened in school. They even share an “empathy cake” that students bake.

As many have discussed recently, we are in the midst of a great social confusion in America, where violence, cruelty, and deviant behavior is somehow lauded as “strong” and self-restraint, patience, listening, kindness, and respectful behavior is consistently called “weak.”

Not to put too fine a point on it, these are lies told by abusive sociopaths whose vices are money, sex, substances, sadism, fame and attention, or worse.

Last night, I saw a man on television who has authored a book combating the stereotype of “toxic masculinity.” As there are few books about empathy (or indeed, about what a woman or marginalized person might be good at) there are dozens of books about “toxic masculinity” or how much men are suffering due to changing gender norms and societal pressures.

I understand how men feel. It’s hard to go out to make a living for your family every day, be a good provider, and have hardly a minute for yourself or something you might like to do.

It’s relaxing, sometimes, to take it easy and let someone else shoulder the burdens.

Our culture is so crude, so self-oriented, so violent (the U.S. military is in over 150 world countries and is officially bombing 8 on a daily basis), and so poor at communication-not-manipulation that this whole empathy thing really is like, as I said to one of my bosses last week (and he understood),

“… people were when someone would work on a flying machine and they said, ‘If God meant man to fly, he’d have given them wings!”

Well, eventually, someone did come up with wings. And a whole lot of other things.

We’re talking about human technology, human sustainability, and understanding what others are thinking and feeling — not to manipulate them toward some short-term material end, such as making them buy something, making them do something (to materially benefit you) or — as we’ve been battling out via Twitter over the past two years — support or oppose a political candidate —

it’s about us.

Not me. Not you.

We.

How we can work better together to get things done. Get things done in the classroom, get things done in the workplace, get things done at home. Get things done for each other. It’s win-win baby and this time: for real.

Part 1 is here. I will endeavor to update weekly. This one’s about how three isn’t always a crowd — three can be a magic number.

According to Harlan Ellison and my grandmother, “You’ll go far Amy, because you have heart.” Author of 40 books, former exec., Nebula Award nominee, Poor.

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