Remembering the Future: Predicting the Present 

Guest post by Daniel Braunfeld, Senior Program Associate for Special Projects at Facing History and Ourselves

I spent the day in 2026 with over eight thousand friends — students, teachers, and neighbors. We all walked around connected via the FeelThat network – a new technology that allowed us to experience each other’s feelings.  Some people were comfortable with this new power and others were hesitant, even scared; some people were unsure of how to proceed.

Sometimes, the experience of feeling someone’s emotions was too much to handle — it was depressing to feel such pain and it was better to turn it off.

Sometimes, the experience raised questions — is someone spying on us?  Will the government treat us differently? Can we prevent war? How are we creating a more just society?

And sometimes, the future was exciting as we challenged stereotypes, broke down barriers, truly listened, exercised our emotional strength and built bridges.

But my favorite part of my time in 2026 was the impact it had when I returned to 2016. I was motivated to make different choices. I put down my computer to introduce myself to strangers. I asked them questions and listened to their stories, rather than focusing on what I wanted to say. I called my family, who is currently far away, just so I could see their faces. I walked the street looking up, rather than staring down at a screen, because people’s emotions are on their face, in their eyes, and on their tongues — but never on the ground.

For 30 hours I asked myself, “what action could I take TODAY to help make this future MORE likely?” and I was reminded that the choices I make can make a difference.

ACT: Listen to learn. Connect with neighbors. Be present. Be an upstander. In response to: What Action could someone take TODAY to help make this future MORE likely?

So I have set my empathy to public. I might shut it off, at times, when I need to turn my attention inward. I might seek your partnership when I have experiences that I will best process with a community. And I am committed to receiving your experiences in a way that makes you feel heard, feel supported, and feel whole. The future of empathy begins today.

 

On Imagining a New Self (& Breaking Free of Stereotypes)

Guest post by Hearts on Fire, an organization that focuses on showcasing some of the most inspirational and committed individuals working to change the world for the better. It was launched following the release of the nonfiction book Hearts on Fire: Stories of Today’s Visionaries Igniting Idealism into Action by Jill Iscol, Ed.D and Peter Cookson.

During gameplay, killin.tang proposed how the FeelThat network could help men express their feelings and push back against the standard definition of masculinity, one with a cold and stoic demeanor.

POSITIVE IMAGINATION: Men can have a way to express their feelings, and it will break down the barriers of men bring a cold stone warrior without emotions. #as132

This insight highlights the rigidity of gender norms in our society. What identities do you possess that might influence how others see you? How does that affect the way you present yourself to the world? It is well-documented that our behavior and choices are often rooted in how we believe others perceive us.

By thinking more critically about our own identities as well as others’, and the way they influence perceptions and behaviors, we can begin to apply empathy and Face the Future together. We can share our stories to light a spark of good in the world and make a difference in the lives of others who might be facing similar challenges.

We hope the Hearts on Fire Teachers Guide (developed in partnership with Facing History and Ourselves) will help students explore their own stories and identities and ignite them to take that first step in their journey to making the world a better place for all.

Social Studies and Emotional Citizenship

Guest post by Brandon Haas, a professor of social studies education at Plymouth State University and facilitator of Holocaust and Human Behavior for Facing History and Ourselves.

Face the Future puts us in a world where we can tap into the emotions of others. The game provides ample opportunity in the realm of education. We are playing the game with pre-service social studies teachers who are investigating this in two ways. First as a way to investigate global and social issues, while fostering the level of critical thinking associated with imagining these futures. Critical thinking surrounding some of the futures has led to rich discussion of morals and ethical questions, as well as how this may affect many of the issues currently faced by society as a result of feeling the “other,” something that could have major implications in our current social climate.

It also brings up a regular question of our reliance on technology as a means of escape. Would addiction to feeling become an issue?

#FeelThatShadow Card played on Twitter: People may get addicted to feeling certain ways and not be able to function with just their own feelings.

In social studies education, we often promote the discussion of controversial issues in the classroom. The questions raised in Face the Future suggest that this could lead to some controversial issues related to law (as shown below), addiction, and privacy.

ACT Card: Make important decision makers unbiased by making them disconnect for deliberation. Like for juries so they only look at the facts. In response to SHADOW IMAGINATION: Would a jury be more likely to make an emotional decision rather than a rational one?

Students have much to gain from a thorough investigation of controversial issues and the development of empathy is often a goal of such learning activities, especially when discussing these issues through the use of individual’s experience or testimony. When we learn about the Holocaust or other acts of genocide, would survivors want to share those feelings with students and teachers? Would it be appropriate to do so? I wonder if this would help to make “Never Again” a reality if people were able to truly understand what others feel. By adding in the layer of feeling what others can feel brings issues of othering, prejudice, and bigotry to the forefront in a way that could effect real change. There are also questions that arise as a result of FeelThat entering the classroom.

Would this lead to a new type of learning? How do we be mindful of our emotions and scaffold learning emotional citizenship. Much like we have to teach our students how to successfully and responsibly navigate the internet, we’d have to create a new framework for moral and ethical behavior as it relates to emotion. Would we have to determine how to teach students when it is responsible to share emotion? Emotions have always been such a private part of our lives that allowing them to enter the public sphere is difficult to truly conceive of. How do we avoid trivializing the feelings of others when we can experience it first hand, as 9th Grade Team asked?

SHADOW IMAGINATION card played on Twitter: What if you get made fun of for having certain emotion or feeling #FacetheFuture #FHNTCLE #Shadowimagination

What age does it become appropriate and responsible to factor this into curriculum? Would legislation regulate its use? By integrating FeelThat into our daily lives, it becomes crucial to factor in social-emotional learning, as well as moral, and character education. These are facets of education that are already central to social studies and with a new platform such as this, the need for a greater focus becomes clear.

How to Make the Best of your Empathy

Guest post by Emiliana Simon-Thomas, Science Director for Greater Good Science Center at the University of California, Berkeley. The Greater Good Science Center studies the psychology, sociology, and neuroscience of well-being, and teaches skills that foster a thriving, resilient, and compassionate society. 

We often think of empathy as a virtue—it’s sometimes used synonymously with terms like “compassion” and “understanding.”

But in reflecting on the scenarios, ideas, and possibilities in FeelThat, we see that empathy is more complicated. Sometimes there’s that feel-good, tender variety that helps us connect deeply with and nurture others, like how the FeelThat sweethearts tuned into each other. But then there’s also the I feel exactly what you are feeling variety that weighs us down with feelings of unsolvable pain—like the sensations that drop the boyfriend to the ground when Izzy is killed.

The fact of the matter is that, according to scientists, empathy alone is not a moral emotion, or heroic behavior. It’s simply the ability either to a) sense someone else’s emotional state, whether it’s a “positive” state like amusement or a “negative” one like sorrow, or b) put yourself in someone else’s shoes and see the world from their perspective. Studies have revealed that these two facets of empathy each rely on their own distinct pathways in the brain, and neither systematically predicts lending support or cooperating.

Our bodies are built to empathize, to feel physically moved and understand other’s points of view; these biological tools help us learn from and communicate with each other. While empathic strength can motivate heroism, it can also, however, increase personal distress or compel us to ‘check out’, e.g. “Not my problem.” Especially strong, or chronic empathy for others’ suffering can paralyze us from helping or motivate efforts to escape, either physically or existentially.

What turns empathy awry? Research points to two key risks: 1) fully absorbing others’ negative emotions and reacting as if their distress or despair were our own and 2) failing to regulate, cope with, seek support, or otherwise address the inner and outer circumstances associated with our own life difficulties. To channel our empathy for others towards moral behavior, the quintessential flight attendant’s advice to “place your own oxygen mask before trying to assist others” holds true. This does not mean limiting how readily or broadly we “try to assist others”; it just means that empathy requires a foundation of stability and balance within our own emotional lives, and a clear understanding of who’s feelings belongs to who. This is perhaps more important for people whose livelihoods involve frequent and repeated contact with others’ suffering, like social workers or nurses or doctors.

So if you’re aspiring towards a more empathic you, keep the following in mind:
1) Notice how your own body reacts to others’ feelings, and gently usher those inner feelings towards the actions your inner hero wants to take,
2) Explore your habitual thoughts and interpretations about yourself and other people, and replace the suspicious, hostile, judge-y ones with trusting, self-confident and tenacious ambitions.

The objective of empathy is not to take-on others emotions, but to attune to and internalize the felt experience of perceiving others’ emotions in a manner than preserves and enhances your own sense of safety and bolsters the strength of your own inner hero. If FeelThat can supplement, deepen or provide a more granular incoming signal about others emotional states, it’s still up to us to handle that signal in the most constructive, strengthening way!

Empathy is a Universal Necessity

Guest post by a student at Magnificat High School

I am really enjoying this game, and the opportunity it provides for me to learn about others’ opinions of a future with FeelThat.

This network could break language barriers, and may allow for communication even with intelligent extraterrestrial life, as 17walterk says:

Positive Imagination: The language barrier would be easier to break. If aliens were discovered, this would be a way to communicate with them. #bsi

I thought that this insight was particularly interesting, as this user recognized that empathy is a universal necessity. Not only should we be prepared to understand those we are presently familiar with; it is also important to sustain the core value of empathy as we encounter new, unfamiliar situations and people (and possibly, otherworldly beings!).

LilyRudofsky, however, argues that this may not be advantageous. Many other people on the site take similar standpoints, in saying that the increasing connection may only create more judgment, falsehood, and ultimately decrease our understanding of one another.

Investigate: Couldn't this leave us vulnerable? People don't often say what they feel and the aliens could take our feelings the wrong way. #bsi

Originally, I only thought of the expanse of possibilities brought along with a network such as this. Many of the users of FacetheFuture.org have expanded on the many possibilities I originally imagined, as well as provided foresight on the dangers such a connection could bring about. It is interesting to view both the pros and cons of FeelThat, as it is now clear to me that the network could prove to promote human connection or further complicate it. I believe it is our attitude about an opportunity such as this that impacts how we treat one another.

Where there are shadows there will be light.

Guest post by Dylan Wray, co-founder and executive director of Shikaya, a non-profit civil society organization that recognizes the crucial role that teachers can play in deepening and strengthening South Africa’s democracy. Since 2003, Dylan has been the project coordinator of Facing the Past – Transforming our Future, a partnership with Facing History and Ourselves that holds educator workshops and seminars throughout South Africa, and provides resources and support to teachers and curriculum advisers across the country.

Playing Face the Future today has made us think about the world in the not too distant future. It has created the space for us to imagine the hope and possibility but also the shadows, warnings and fears.

But reading how people young and old, close and far away, feel about this future, had made me think more deeply about us today. And, perhaps, it is in the Shadow Imagination where I have been most drawn to thinking about today.

Nico, for instance, wonders about the addiction to the validation of others that the technology might bring:

Shadow Imagination: Technology becomes a fix like a drug. A place where you couldn't cope without others "liking"/"Favouriting you"

What should this make us feel today? How do we withdraw from the fixes we currently find ourselves drawn to – the Emoji smiles and frowns and thumbs up or down. Is it becoming harder for us today to notice facial expressions, tones of voice and touch – those parts of us that can tell others some of how we feel?

For Angelique, in the shadows of a technology that allows us to feel the emotions of others, lies the threat of us growing up too quickly:

Shadow Imagination: Would the youth, children and young adults, have to grow up quicker because they would be exposed to certain emotions a lot sooner?
What does social media and our exposure to what hundreds and even thousands of people in our networks are feeling and thinking do to us? Even if we can’t today feel what others are feeling, what impact is it having that we can know what so many people tell us they are feeling? Are we having to already grow up quickly because we are being exposed to so much more?

Many players, like Hammond, have raised the issue of privacy:

Shadow Imagination: At what point does FeelThat become invasion of privacy. #Redhill

We are already sharing so much information with, well … we aren’t always so sure with whom. Sure, no one can feel our emotions and feelings, but going through the data from our Snapchats, Facebook timelines and Whatsapp chats, and a glimpse into our emotions and actions is possible for whoever is looking.

And yet there is hope…

As Annus Mirabillis sees:

Positive Imagination: Allowing Someone to "read" your innermost emotions could be considered the ultimate expression of trust and/or love and/or honesty.

Perhaps today, we could do with a little more technology that allows us to connect more intimately, more deeply and in ways that allow us to show more of our true selves. That surely, can’t be such a bad thing. That’s a good thing to imagine.

Should you have to work for empathy?

Guest post by Sean Pettis, Education Development Worker for the Corrymeela Community, a peace and reconciliation charity based in Northern Ireland. He Co-ordinates the work of Facing History and Ourselves in Northern Ireland.

There are some fascinating game cards being played on what #Feelthat could bring to the future we are predicting with regards to empathy. Anna Romer’s blog raises some great questions about whether we would have the time or inclination to be empathetic. Likewise, Game Player Regina asked ‘But what if we do not have empathy? Do you believe everything this technology can help people to learn empathy?’

PREDICT: But what if we do not have empathy? Do you believe everything this technology can help people to learn empathy? In Response To: I believe empathy comes from inside, that gives us HUMANITY, and if we try to do it with technology we'll probably lose our humanity.

J.Ochoa suggested #IWouldJoin because increased empathy can help prevent another world war.

Positive Imagination: #IWouldJoin because increase empathy can help prevent another world war.

It raised some interesting questions for me. Is feeling as another does the same as empathy? And if it is, how does someone take the step from empathy to action?

In a world without this technology I was thinking about when and how I have felt empathy and what skills did it require? For me it happens in a relationship –not necessarily face to face, or in the present–it could be through reading a story or watching a film. When I hear Sonia Weitz recite her poem ‘Icicles’ about her time in Bergen-Belsen, I feel empathy. I have to think hard, imagine hard and clear my mind of all the other distractions of life. This is the space and environment where empathy happens for me. How would #FeelThat change this? I could instantly take on another’s feelings, not ‘as if’ they were my own (how Carl Rogers defines Empathy) but instead they would become my own. It’s quick, but I haven’t had to work hard for it.

The world is full of injustices that deserve action from thoughtful and committed citizens. #FeelThat might help with the first bit–identifying an issue and feeling strongly about it, but will it move people to action? Or will they become so completely overwhelmed that there is paralysis?

My gut is telling me you need to work hard to create empathy in order for it to be deep, meaningful and lead to #upstander behaviour.

How could sensing others’ emotions affect education?

Guest post by Lisa Lefstein-Berusch, Senior Program Associate at Facing History and Ourselves 

Many players, both teachers and students, are wondering how the FeelThat technology might improve or affect the future of education.  

Some players have discussed how helpful it might be for teachers to sense their students’ emotions. Francisco Angel suggests that education could improve, especially for students who are too shy or too frustrated to ask for help. Other players built on this idea, suggesting that feeling students’ emotions could help teachers pace their lessons or respond in the moment to an entire class’s confusion.  

positive imagination: Teachers can understand their students. They know if they're frustrated or don't understand or are just too shy to ask.

You can continue to follow and build on this conversation here:  http://www.facethefuture.org/card_plays/5878

Anita suggests that teachers might need to receive training to deal with students’ anxiety and confusion.  

predict, in response to "I wonder what it would feel like for the teacher if they felt everyone's confusion at once. #education." - Card reads, Teachers will be trained to deal with the anxiety and frustration from students #education

Teachers are dealing with students’ emotions, frustration, and confusion every day. Another post from Komalta Rajani highlights the way that students can feel when teachers do not empathize with their confusion. These posts reminds us that they cannot wait for this technology to be able to respond to their students’ emotions.  

positive imagination card: #education teachers could feel the confused state of the student and react accordingly instead of being condescending!

Anita and others consider behavior in schools and classrooms, too, pointing out that there are emotions behind students’ negative behavior. The hope in this post and others is that teachers could find better ways to reach troubled students if they understand that there are real and difficult emotions behind their often disruptive behaviors.

Follow and build on this conversation here:  http://www.facethefuture.org/card_plays/145has.

positive imagination card: teachers will be able to teach emotional skills by showing kids the reasons or causes behind other kids' negative behaviors #education

These posts and others raise important questions about the role of emotion and empathy in education. What could teachers and administrators do today – without the technology of the future–to better reach students in our schools?