Importance of Empathy


~ Be kind, for everyone you meet is fighting a hard battle – Ian Maclaren

I find myself aspiring to develop a greater and more consistent sense of empathy as time goes by. Despite my best intentions, as life becomes busier and more demanding, the energy and effort that true empathy requires seems to become increasingly challenging to access and harness. In addition to life’s time constraints, striving to cultivate this idealistic character trait does not come without inherent risk. A state of burnout from empathy overload can be fairly common as one becomes burdened by their emotional state resulting from emotional empathy, commonly referred to as affective empathy. According to Dr. Emiliana Simon-Thomas of the Greater Good Center at UC Berkeley, Affective empathy “refers to the inner feelings that arise-and the subtle copying of expressions that happens-when we see others express emotion.” Despite these side effects that one typically encounters throughout their empathy journey, the benefits to others and to “self” overcomes and wins out in the end.

This collective “win” inspires and influences change. It fosters understanding, acceptance, and growth, both individually and societally.

What can empathy accomplish? Here are some examples from

  • Empathy encourages people to perform acts of charity and heroism. Those with higher levels of empathy are more likely to go out of their way to help others who are in need, even at the risk of their own comfort or self-interest. It encourages acts of selflessness from people, even resulting to heroic and, to a certain extent, self-sacrificing acts.
  • Empathy reduces the level of negative emotions or ill feelings towards other people. Racism and various other prejudices are decreased when people are more able to empathize with people of different cultures, nationalities, beliefs or some other affiliation or grouping. Incidents of bullying, aggression and violence are also reduced when people display more empathy towards weaker ones.
  • Empathy promotes equality. People will start to act and think more “in the spirit of fairness”. Fights against inequality are often grounded on empathy, with the advocates promoting the idea of reaching out to the less fortunate ones, or those who belong to marginalized and stigmatized groups.
  • Empathy improves workplace relationships and processes. There are hierarchies even in the workplace, and if empathy is demonstrated in this setting, it will result in a more harmonious and peaceful working environment, while improving productivity of the workers.


Life is full of challenges, misfortunes, and tragedies. Perhaps focusing our attention on how we can more effectively support our friends, families, fellow Hornets, and society during challenging times by feeling their pain AND by taking action to help, also referred to as compassionate empathy, should be our true focus when examining our ability and duty to care for others. Cognitive empathy, defined by Simon-Thomas as “how we understand what other people’s emotions mean and why they typically occur”, is not always enough, as it doesn’t necessarily invoke action. With compassionate empathy as our goal, perhaps we will not only recognize another person’s pain or heartache in times of suffering, but perhaps we will also begin to provide appropriate support to them, and help them to some degree, overcome their challenge or hardship, and give them a glimmer of hope. We all aspire to have hope, right?

Improving your capacity for empathy is a noble pursuit, and one that requires effort and attention.  Here are some tips from

  • Practice curiosity about strangers. Part of showing empathy is being interested in other people, especially people that you know nothing about and who are outside of your social circle. These can be the random people you meet on the bus, or who you’re standing in line for coffee with.
  • Volunteer. Sometimes, people are only motivated to reach out and help others after they themselves have been in need. If you want to develop empathy for others, volunteer now. Volunteering promotes understanding of the needs of the community and allows you to connect with people you may not otherwise meet in your everyday life. Dedicating a portion of your time to those in need also has amazing mental health benefits
  • Challenge your own prejudice. It’s hard sometimes to remember that just because you firmly believe in something doesn’t mean that it’s right. Take time to analyze your own prejudices.
  • Use your imagination. A good imagination is one of the cornerstones of showing empathy towards something. You’re not going to be able to experience every single thing that can happen to a person, but you can use your imagination to give you an inkling of how it might feel and use that understanding to empathize with them.
  • Practice experiential empathy. This means getting a direct experience of another person’s life, the “walk a mile in another person’s shoes” adage. The writer, George Orwell, lived on the streets of London to discover what it was like for those on the margins of society. Orwell made friends, changed his view on the destitute (deciding they were not “drunken scoundrels”), and changed his views on inequality.


  • Treat people as being important. Start treating people as if they have as much importance as you do. Recognize that you aren’t the only one living in this world and that you aren’t some superior being.
  • Practice loving-kindness meditation. Meditating is a great way to help yourself deal with things like depression and anxiety and just the stresses of day to day existence. Practicing loving-kindness meditation, however, can help make you more empathetic

To further explore the concept of empathy, register for the Leadership Initiative by visiting Leadership Initiative and attend Gold Workshop 6! Also, check out the video to learn about The Power of Outrospection.


-Josh Mandel-Sonner, Sport Club Advisor


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