Convener: Edwin Rutsch is founding director of the Center for Building a
Culture of Empathy.
his full Bio here.
Transcription We video tape many interviews
and empathy conference panels. It's helpful to have a transcript
of these videos since it makes it easier for viewers to quickly
access the contents We invite you to help out.
this page for instructions on how to do it. You will
be contributing to the viewers ease of use and personal growth, as
well as, helping to build a culture of empathy and compassion.
We are grateful for your help!
(Much gratitude to
Roshni Trehan Ladny for doing the transcription) The first panel with
some members of the empathy curriculum development team. We tested
out the panel process and talked about how we can build a culture
Illene Fortune= IF
Introduction from Edwin R: This is the very first panel. It is a trial
run with members of empathy curriculum team:
introduces Mutima Imani:
I have 2 distinguished panelists with me: Sherry McCreedy and Illene
Topic is: How to build culture of empathy
I would like each panelist to discuss” What does empathy
mean to you? Share a short story. What brings you to topic of empathy?”
1:50(Sherry) Empathy means to me: Being in a place within myself where I
have space to be connected with myself, and people I am with, in a way
where I can see my own humanity and humanity of others.
There are a number of times I have experienced that in
(SM shares her story of what lead her to embrace the
topic of empathy)
One of the sweetest memories I have is working in the
classroom with 12 and 13 year olds teaching a Spanish language learning
class. I began to consciously start to think about what I was wanting
and also about what students were wanting from human point of view.
This is different from using structural authority as
teacher and seeing what students ought to be doing as students.
I started communicating what I was feeling to students
and why. There was something within me that I was wanting. We looked at
this together. For example: What are you feeling? Do you need to take a
Learned words for what we were feeling in Spanish. I was feeling
frustrated one day. Everyone was tired, and all the books were on
floor. I expressed feeling frustrated. Students asked “Are you needing
order”. They then put their books away!
I felt companionship among us all.
4:55(Sherry) Thank you for sharing.
You experienced empathy with students in the classroom
Illene would you like to share?
Illene’s story of what lead her to embrace topic of empathy
Mine is also school related: It is connected to my
childhood. I was a quiet sensitive little girl. I felt I did not have a
place to fit in. I learned how to be invisible so I would not be a
target by the time I was in school . I was that way all through school
In college I started to do mediation work with students.
Learning about empathy, connecting to people on basis of feelings. I
came across a mediation program in San Francisco.
I came across Marshall Rosenberg’s work on non-violent
communication. This was a concrete version of empathy. Connecting with
people from the heart. As humans we have a common collection of needs.
Need for order, need to belong, need for respect. We may have different
ways of meeting needs, but we have the same goal of meeting them.
Being who we are and fully accepting people for who they
are in the moment is a part of empathy. Being able to hear each other
without judgment and keeping our hearts soft.
I brought this work into elementary schools. I worked
with kindergartners Talking about how we could take experience we had
together of safety and acceptance and hearing each other out into the
world. One little girl in the school said:, If give that experience to
one person, they give it to one person, and those people give it to
other people, just think of what would happen in the world. I see how
open kids are to it. I want to bring the work to them.
I thought, you are just five years old and it took me to
now to understand that.
Thank you. Beautiful story
We are looking at how to build a culture of empathy
What is the importance of this?
Mutami, can you share your story of what empathy means to you?
MI shares her story of empathy.
I have been in situations in where I was always the odd
person out. I traveled a lot when I was young. I was usually the first
person of color that others saw.
I experienced empathetic connection with people who were
totally different from me, people I could not communicate with in
English language. This intrigued me. There is something beyond words. I
think of the world as a place where there is an empathetic heart: moving
beyond language. Report happens. I experienced this very young.
Field of diversity: I realized that in talking about
valuing differences, acknowledges them. The core of my work has been
development of self. Once person begins to develop self, there is an
empathetic thing that excites oneself about other people. This has come
up through my career.
I am glad to be a part of this movement to build a
culture of empathy one million strong. That is my story.
Mine is more of a family related story.
I grew up a teenager in 60’s in 79’s. There was a
generation gap, young against old. I grew up in conservative family. I
was caught up in generation gap. There was conflict in my family, with
me being more liberal and progressive. I now spend time listening to my
folks, trying to get who they are. I find that my relationship with my
family has gotten deeper, just by listening. I remember my parents
trying to convert me to get back to religion. I just listened to what
they were wanting. I reflected and empathized with them. This allowed me
to see deeper into them. They see the world as a greedy self-centered
kind of world. To them, the only way out is religion. I had never
really seen this before. I said to them it sounds like you think people
are not empathetic to each other.. They said this is right. They told
me they liked my work and could see what I was doing.
This has been a deepening of personal connections. That
is one story that is very meaningful for me. I was using empathy to get
closer to members of my family.
Thank you for sharing that story.
15:00 Historically empathy is in every culture.
Traditionally it has been limited to family. We are moving into an urban
setting and people are living in large crowds. It appears it is possible
and it is time for empathy to come here. Why is empathy important? How
do we begin to create culture of empathy from where we stand in our
world? From your personal place, why is it important?
Who would like to share first?
16:05(Illene) We live in a culture that has an economic system that by its
nature, creates inequality and inequity. It puts people against each
other. We are fighting an uphill battle in this system. This system does
not provide for everyone. If we are wanting to make change, learning
empathy and acting from a place from empathy. No other way to do it.
I liked what you are saying. (Summarizes what IF said)
I heard that 30,000 homes have been foreclosed. 30,000
families displaced. In this climate that we live in, it is so easy to
crate stereotypes of who those people are, why they put themselves in
that situation to be evicted. This is an error in thinking. This is a
result of the economic system. Coming together, speaking to each other,
finding a way to connect is critical! The place to do that is with young
kids in schools. These are skills that can be taught and learned. These
skills are not modeled for us in society, in corporate media. WE as
adults who have been raised in certain power structures do not model it
for our youth. If you go into schools and see the way it is structured:
about keeping people in line, managing classroom, keeping it quiet.
Empathy is not a focus, it is not modeled in school.
19.44 How do we teach it? We have to start with listening
and speaking skills. Understand our social history that has brought us
to where we are now. Should be taught in teacher education as well.
Change can hopefully happen as well.
Thank you. Sherry, how about you?
20:24(Sherry) I think a culture of empathy is going to be inclusive. We
are supposed to reach around 7 billion people in this world soon. There
is a lot of people and other life. If we are disconnected with life, we
are not going to have strong ability to be good stewards, of earth as
well of our own lives. Super important fundamental thing.
This is a question of world view and how we practice
For me, it comes from a yoga practice. This allowed me to
connect with myself. Be more present in my own life. Includes meditation
practice and other types. This is an example of what contributes to me
to a culture of empathy for self connection
In terms For interacting with rest of life:
How do we make decisions? Building community and making
decisions together. I resonate with what Illene was saying: our culture
has system in place. Someone else is in power. We either comply or
rebel. I chose compliance with side rebellion, hoping no one would see.
We need to be more inclusive in how we make decisions
together. I am really excited about the occupy movement of taking on
government as a primary in decision making processes and using
consensus models. This leads to more people being heard more deeply.
People will be more engaged in it instead of someone at top saying “do
this and this and this”. We use our sense of community with that way.
The other piece is what to do when decisions come painful
for us? Usually there is something in there that is very meaningful. In
order to bring out that meaning, we need a more thought through process
that is created by community. What I have really been intrigued/excited
by is “restorative circles” as a way to address conflict and other
restorative practices in general. These also allow us to understand one
another, see humanity in each other, take responsibility for our
experience. We each contribute in some way. A kind of empathy that will
allow us to make decisions together about what we are going to do with
whatever this painful conflict is.
Restorative justice is arising in this world. It is interesting that
root of word justice is “uge” it is the same root word as in “yoga”.
There is always a system in place. We don’t always think about it Right
now we have inherited a retributive justice. I would like to see a
restorative justice. I think it will create a world in which we can work
together more effectively.
25: 54 (Sherry)-
Thank you. Thank you so much, Edwin, how about you?
I was hearing that there is a notion that we have empathy mainly only
for our immediate family and tribes… this is the expanding notion of
empathy. I am a little skeptical of this view. I have seen plenty of
families where there is a lack of empathy within family and more empathy
for another outside of the family. I spent 10 years traveling across the
world, (Indonesia, new Zeeland, India, Australia, Afghanistan, ) There
were people that reached out and connected with me everyone. There is
the notion through history that we are becoming more empathic, but
there were explorers like Marco Polo who traveled across the world. I am
sure he connected with people all along that way. We have that basic
human capacity for empathy. We need to get away from fear that there is
“others outside from us”. I hear it here in America: “ It is a
dangerous world out there, we have to be afraid”.
It is about addressing the fear, that there are caring
people all over the world that reach out. In Indonesia, people wanting
to include me in their families. They would see I was alone, by myself,
invited me to come and have a meal with them.
I think it is just seeing our common humanity with people
all over the globe, addressing the fears. (states quote: An enemy is
someone’s story we have not heard”)
We all have that basic sense of empathy. It is not
restricted to our friends and family. There are people who go on
vacation and meet people everywhere they are connected with. There is
that capacity there. I am a little concerned with that world view that
talks about the world view of empathy.
29:34 (Mutima) Okay, well alright.
Thank you for sharing that
I have had similar experiences with people being open and
connecting. I also feel that people become more empathetic when they
become more self-aware. That starts with being able to reflect on what
is going on with one self. I think one of the things. When people voted
for Obama, United States was not ready, there was not enough connection
around the racial divide, for America to vote in a black president. I
was completely overwhelmed! There was more empathy and connection than I
had imagined. As a person who does empathy work, it is like starting
from ground zero.
With the U.S voting in an African American man as
president, it is because of technology and new ways we are connected,
internet, social network, there is more empathy. I think that this whole
“occupy wall street” is an empathetic movement about joining people who
are unemployed and have lost homes. It is a cry for the people in the
U.S to say we need to take care of ourselves. There is going to be an
empathy muscle that is developing and for the people who have decided to
march out and realize that there are other people who have been
marginalized because there has not been a culture of empathy around
indigenous people and people of color here in U.S.
So, did that make sense?
So are you saying that we have to develop self awareness for empathy?
That empathy has to expand to parts of society that has not been
It is about social responsibility and personal
responsibility. Responsibility, the ability to choose our response in
the situation. To chose a response that is life giving and supporting of
life around us, whether it is people, plants, animals, or mother earth.
What you said reminded me of that.
Lets us as a team decides where conversation should go
next. It has been a really rich conversation. What would we like to talk
about in the next fifteen minutes we have together?
A lot of what we talked about is this idea that we are
nice all the time, or we act in a certain way, in an altruistic way all
the time. I wonder if it would good to bring in how empathy is also
about healing breaches in relationships. This is often where the deepest
connections happen. Sherry was talking about restorative practices and
how that plays in.
So it is about empathy and conflict?
It is about how we connect through disagreement,
conflict, and pain.
35: 25 (Sherry) I
have some experience in school environments and others where I have seen
real shifts on walking through conflict, rather than avoiding it. What
is meaningful to us, is what comes out. Apparently it is something we
tend to do in North America. I think we tend to be blind to whatever our
own thing is. WE tell stories to share what is meaningful to us. To say
how we are right now.
37: 18 (Edwin) I have done some
mediation training and it seems like mediation is about getting people
to empathize with others. The core of mediation is empathy. If you can
create an environment where both sides can empathize with each other.
This seems to be a really big rich area, to use it for conflict
does work in conflict resolution when you can get two parties together,
give them equal times to hear each other and voice their opinions. What
about structural racism? What about institutionalized racisms? What I
believe is that as we begin to sense the places where empathy is needed,
then there is going to be a chance for people who have self awareness
and are clear about what they need and want, there will be a place to
take some action and o really shift the mindset around who are the
aliens, who are the other persons. To begin to say we need to build
humanity. As we move towards a 21st century in these urban
environments, there are things we have taken for granted that are only
okay for certain people to have. We are going to have to open the door
so everyone can survive. If the monetary system is going to stay with
the dollar, then there should be equal distribution with the dollar.
People should be able to buy what is necessary like food clothes, and
shelters. There are so many people who have lost their homes. I heard
the statistic 30,000 in the last year, in Oakland. There are people who
will never be able to think about buying a home, who do not have the
security of buying the home, or who may even be homeless. Being homeless
sometimes stems from the fact that they are cut out from economic means
to secure home for self. So, I am looking for empathy muscle that is
big enough and will begin to reflect where the disparities are and it
is more than a personal reflection but a collective conscious shift.
That is what I am counting on, that things like “occupy Wall Street is
beginning of movement that is going to build empathy in a way that it is
going to be inclusive. I fell like even with this Even with this 99%
and 1 % there has to be a way for even 1% to be included so we can solve
the problem together. When people are in anger and pain, it is hard to
include the “other”. Right now the other is 1% rich. If we are going
to ask for equal distribution, they are going to have to come to the
table sooner or later.
(Sherry) Otherwise it is more of the same, rearranging the
heard you say something about structural or institutionalized
racism. I want to speak to one of the challenges that are there that
maybe some of us don’t always see. One thing I have heard in doing
work with restorative justice is that most conflicts, if not all, at
some point, if you go all the way out to the context in which conflict
is occurring, it goes back to colonialism. I think one of the biggest
challenges is, how do I say. Some of us, like myself, I was raised as
a white person with certain ideas of ways that you fix things that get
in the way of what I think is empathy. For example: I have a good idea.
I think I will bring it into a community so that they will get fixed.
What I am finding is that I need to do a whole lot more listening which
includes to the very people that are struggling the most. And also
recognize that we are all contained in that. There is a way that
everyone is impacted by colonialism as well. We need to do a whole lot
of listening and understanding each other, which includes listening to
the 1% whoever that is. I am curious, does anyone consider themselves to
be part of the 1%? That would be interesting to find out. It is a lot of
listening first, that empathetic listening. And recognizing the
structure in which we find ourselves as an impact on everyone. I am
wondering, Mutima, what you think about when you hear that. I am
stimulated and curious by what you said.
I am in agreement with what you are saying. It is one of
the reason why building a culture of empathy is important. We are
living in automatic. Our history has not been told to us in a correct
way. We are living of assumptions and stereotypes and prejudices that
automatically exclude people. In my diversity work, when I am dealing
with individuals, almost every individual has a heart and wants to
include others and are concerned, but when we move from individual to
the collective which is the collective consciousness, which history has
set up. We then see the blocks. If People were to take a moment to see
where their investments are like in the United states prison industry
is the fastest growing industry, and their investments are plugged into
that , they would be appalled. But because we live on automatic, we
think I need enough money to retire, to go on vacation, to do this on,
people are not checking on where are “they plugged in at”. So when
people start to develop enough self-awareness to be concerned, not just
about “I need to get mine, I need to do this and I need to do that, for
me and my family”. Then an awakening comes. Where am I plugged in? This
is very strange analogy. I use this one. “there is blood on my hands.”
Where am I plugged in? That kind of review is going to come out of
empathy. I believe that when people develop their empathy muscles, it is
like a baby step but with that There is an empathy consciousness that
they begin to reflect: We need to do this because we are destroying our
earth, we need to do this because we are poisoning our water. We need
to do this because we are directly supporting pipeline to prisons which
is in some cases, “lack of education”. We can do that, we can provide
quality education, and stop the pipeline.
(Illene) Par of the challenge we are going to face in this
new direction we are trying to move socially is, So when you look at
Maslow’s hierarchy of needs. At the bottom level are survival needs:
home, food, shelter. When a huge portion of society does not have access
to basic human needs, they are living in a constant state of stress
which creates neurological, physiological state of being that actually
transforms our brain and does not allow us to reach those higher levels
of thinking, those higher parts of our brain where empathy lives. When
we look at a culture where there is so much inequity, the haves and have nots. The haves seem to want to believe in the myth of “self
responsibility, pull yourselves up by your boot straps. Why are you
angry? Don’t’ be angry, be empathetic. I f those people would just
change and come along with the plan, everything would be okay.” So when
we are talking about empathy in an inequitable society, there is that
challenge. We saw it occupy Oakland where a lot of anger was acted out
at what the police chose to do. That anger is going to come out before
we get to empathy. We need to be really careful that we are not going
to label people and put people in little boxes because they are angry
and have lived without access to what the 1% has had.
I think a shift of consciousness of what we value in our lives is
happening in the Occupy Wall street. The anger might now be “ I can’t
have what the 1% can have so I am really mad. About it” I think we are
at the brink of seeing that more houses, more cars, more things is not
going save the planet.
(Illene) And not so much that. We make those things
about power, and we use it to divide people and to distract people from
true human support and connection so I don’t think what I said came out
(Mutima) I think what you said was really right on.
I think the next layer of it is that the shift of consciousness needs to
be about what it is that we want. If we are all fighting that we want to
be the 1%...
I want to go back to want you were saying Mutima. What I was hearing you
initially say is that we need to look at the social structures within
society. There are kind of these patterns of behaviors and organizations
that might not be maximizing empathy within very structure. For
example, you can have a meeting where one person is talking and all
seats are lined up and everyone is looking at one person talking. And is
that system kind of maximizing empathy within that room? Would circles
and small discussion actually work to maximize empathy. It is not an on
and off switch. I see it as a dimmer switch in which we can raise the
experience of empathy. It is like looking at the social structures and
how we can modify them. What I was hearing you say is that there is
structural inequality in empathy in the system. What I was hearing
Sherry say is one way to deal with it, is the actual listening. It is
listening more to people. It is like not going into an environment with
the answers. Not “ I am going to fix you , I know the answers. I know
how things should be. I am here to empathically listen to what are your
needs, feelings, and what are your values. In terms of Occupy Oakland, I
have been imagining having an empathy tent with banners all around. Have
it say 100% empathy on the side of the tent. Make the point that
everyone is included. There is a lot of pain, anger, and resentment
bottled up now. Especially in Oakland.
53: 05 (Sherry) -
When something is true in terms of being aligned, not in sense of true
or false in terms of facts. Quote by Martin Shaw, when something true
enters the room, it all falls silent. So there is a way in that when we
align we connect, we realign. That is what restorative means: To
restore connection, to restore alignment. That is a container in which “
I will be able to see the blood on my hands”. In a way I can do
something one, not just sit there with guilt and shame and
defensiveness or whatever else That is why empathy is so important so
that we all create these containers, within which we can actually see
where we are and be together. It is not necessarily always about being
nice, or even feeling good even. But it is a powerful container that can
hold us as we make decisions about what we want to do as we move
I hope this panel discussion is one of those “containers” so that we
can actually bring up these topics and start exploring them. I am
excited about this circle that we are doing here.
(Illene) I am excited about Sherry’s new tweak on
idea of empathy as truth, where things align, so you aren’t having
conflict and anger, and you are also not also having some happy land
that is unrealistic. It is a place of stillness almost.
is not to avoid conflict and anger. It is a way to meet it, and be with
it. It allows it to reach its fullness and the stillness is then there.
It is almost like it reaches this point of true balance
where everybody’s needs are equally valued and every person is equally
is valued. There is alignment. There is something very rich in that.
55:27 (MI ) It is a beautiful
concept to hold out during these tumultuous times. I want to thank each
of you for being a part of the panel on how to build a culture of
empathy. As we have seen we can probably talk for another 3 hours. Every
comment spins us off into another realm, so this is a very big topic. I
thank you for your time and insights today. Any closing remarks from
anybody before we sign off?
Well I am really excited about his. This is our very first panel. We
have been trying it out and it has been working out really well. I am
quite excited about this. WE will have a debriefing after this and set
up our next panel, our next topic. Thanks to everyone for taking part
and to Mutima for moderating it.