The Power of Empathy
Pity--Sympathy--Compassion--Empathy. This is the line up Anita Nowak shares for the “Altruistic Emotion Continuum” in her TED-x Talk, entitled: “The Power of Empathy.” These four reactions are typically lumped together, but Nowak delineates them as different stops on a spectrum toward the most powerful action we can teach our students as a global community: empathy.
Nowak starts out by ladling out a handful of statistics regarding the state of our world, none of them cheerful. This is done not to be morose, but to enact understanding of the enormity of our universe. She then asks us to “Imagine for a moment: a typical lottery machine. Except in this case, the number of balls bouncing around inside is equivalent to the number of people on the planet; so roughly about seven billion, plus or minus. And on the day you were born, one ball popped out from the machine with your life’s lucky number on it. In other words: where on the planet you were born, to which set of parents. Now how many of you here today would give up your ball for a chance at a better one? My guess is that none of you would. And that’s because the odds of a better ball are overwhelmingly stacked against you.”
This is because most of us reading this have been born to a far more privileged life than we know. After realizing this, Nowak says we have two choices: We can pity those less fortunate, but maintain there’s nothing we can do, or we can harness the power of empathic action.
So what’s the difference between pity and empathy, and why does Nowak put them on opposite ends of the spectrum? She says, “Pity… is an emotional response to someone in distress; full of misfortune. But pity regards its object as inferior, and oftentimes with contempt.” Empathy is different. Nowak tells us, “When you empathize with someone, you recognized that you share a common humanity.”
Empathic action is what occurs when cognitive empathy and affective empathy combine. Nowak explains, “When you imagine yourself in someone else’s shoes, that’s cognitive empathy; and when you feel what someone else is feeling, that’s affective empathy. And when these two phenomena come into alignment, that’s when the power of empathy is huge.”
This superpower has been increasingly researched and studied in recent years. For students growing in an interconnected global world that is enjoying exponential growth in its capacity for borderless reach, this superpower is one that many believe must be taught along with math and the arts.
After all, as St. Francis of Assisi so poignantly put it: “All the darkness in the world cannot extinguish the light of a single candle.”
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Are you or someone you love a highly sensitive person? We most cordially invite you to join our highly anticipated webinar specifically crafted to help explore the traits, trials, misconceptions, and superpowers associated with being an empath, a highly sensitive person, or having synesthesia. Join our own Tamra Excell, co-founder of Christa McAuliffe School of Arts and Sciences, to delve deep into the world of empathy. Through this Webinar, you can expect to learn about synesthesia and highly sensitive people, understand physical and emotional impacts, including empathic skills, and explore strategies and resources for self-care and making the most of these traits. Join us on Tuesday, July 18th at 4pm PST/ 7pm EST. We can’t wait to see you there!
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