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.