Center for Building a Culture of Empathy

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Empathic Design
Empathy Circles

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Empathy Tent

Expert Interviews
Obama on Empathy


    Empathy Tests


Metaphors of Empathy - What is your metaphor of empathy?

Metaphors sorted by the different aspects or parts of Empathy. Empathy is like:


Self Empathy

A fountain or spring flowing freely


Mirrored Empathy

Strings tuned to the same frequency.

Empathy Is Like Surfboard Riding "Empathy, I would say is presence. Pure presence to what is alive in a person at this moment, bringing nothing in from the past. The more you know a person, the harder empathy is. The more you have studied psychology, the harder empathy really is. Because you can bring no thinking in from the past. If you surf, you'd be better at empathy because you will have built into your body what it is about. Being present and getting in with the energy that is coming through you in the present. It is not a mental understanding."
Question: "Is it speaking from the heart?"
Rosenberg: "What? Empathy? In empathy, you don't speak at all. You speak with the eyes. You speak with the body. If you say any words at all, it's because you are not sure you are with the person. So you may say some words. But the words are not empathy. Empathy is when the other person feels the connection to with what's alive in you."  Marshall Rosenberg:

Ike Lasater - Empathy is like a Reflecting Mountain Lake

Empathy is like a sixth sense in that it presents us with emotional information.


Reflective Empathy

  Larry Rosen - Empathy is like a Magic Mirror


Imaginative Empathy

Standing in someone else's shoes.

Looking through someone else's eyes.

Empathy is like reading someone else’s story: being one with the characters and events and feeling the emotions of the main character. It is living life with others with a certain mindfulness: observing, listening, and understanding.


Empathic Creativity and Action



Feel Of Empathy
Metaphors of what does empathy feel like as a felt experience.


The Effects of Empathy



Empathy is like going on a journey with the other person, a journey where neither of us knows where we are heading and where we will be when we arrive.

Trying to observe the slow shift from self-centeredness to empathy is like trying to watch grass grow. — Neal Maxwell.

Empathy is like gravity: its effects on a small scale are apparently modest, but observed on a global scale, the effect is so overwhelming as to create the environment that houses every other interaction. To study the effects of empathy upon individual survival without fully understanding the effects of empathy upon the survival of the species is like running meticulous crash tests but ignoring road conditions. Betsy Shebang

Empathy is like jazz. Jazz requires listening to the experience, rather than just hearing the instruments

When empathy is at its best, the two individuals are participating in a process which may be compared to that of a couple dancing, the client leading, the therapist following: the smooth, spontaneous back and forth flow of energy in the interaction has its own ascetic rhythm (Raskin and Rogers, 1989, p 157)

Like two galaxies coming together, which represents two souls coming together. Edwin Rutsch

Like the Universe - Edwin Rutsch

Like a cornucopia, Edwin Rutsch

Social Glue that binds us together.  Edwin Rutsch

Like disco balls reflecting each other.  Each person is like a disco ball with hundreds of mirrors that reflect the outside world.. When we become fearful some of the mirror start to shut down.  Edwin Rutsch

 Casting loose from the moorings to enter the deep waters of the other person (Rick Hanson)

  • to have enough confidence - this is were differentiation comes in

  • studies show that people who have pores boundaries actually have a hard time sustaining empathy

  • it's like Goldilocks and the 3 bears

  • not to hot, not to cold, not to close, not to distant - it's the sweet spot that promotes empathy

  • So to enter the deep waters of another persons thoughts, feelings, complex dynamics - wow, you've got to have some confidence  that you're not going to get swallowed up and never come out alive.

From Dante's inferno - the angel Virgil goes into hell with Dante (Rick Hanson)  

  • it's like a companion that goes with you.

  • they have an arm on your shoulder and they look out with you at the world

  • instead of sitting across from you looking over at you

  • I see the landscape of the mind is like lovely flowers and dark and smelly bogs.

  • One way of doing empathy is to look over and say I see it

  • Another way is to jump over with the other person, put your arm on their shoulder and look at t


  Dominic Barter - Empathy is like a Super Food


  Terry Lamb - Empathy is like Infinite Mirrored Images

  Jeff Richardson - Empathy is like a Chameleon and Ice Cube

  David Belden - Empathy Boats in the Pit of Chaos

  Skip Robinson Empathy is like Moccasins v Reptile Brain

  Karen Junker - Empathy is like a Birds Eye View

  Mikhail Lyubansky Empathy is like a Kangaroo v Lion

  Jack Lehman - Self-Empathy is like Listening

  Patrick Siebert Empathy is like a Common Breath


  Kerry Tepperman - Empathy is like Leaving the Door Open

Shoshi Morginn - Empathy is like Making Love

  Aftab Omer - Empathy is like a Tapestry v Mush

  Chip Baggett - Empathy is like Jazz Players

  Joseph McCormick Empathy is like Wolves & Dolphins

  Alexa Hauser - Empathy is like Hearts in Hands