Center for Building a Culture of Empathy

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Empathic Design
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Expert Interviews
Obama on Empathy


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Culture of Empathy Builder:  Miki Kashtan


Spinning the Threads of Empathy

Miki Kashtan and Edwin Rutsch


"Miki Kashtan, Ph.D., is a co-founder of Bay Area Nonviolent Communication and serves as its lead facilitator and trainer. She is inspired by the role of visionary leadership in shaping a livable future, and works towards that vision by living, using, and sharing the principles and practice of Nonviolent Communication. " She is the author of Spinning Threads of Radical Aliveness: Transcending the Legacy of Separation in Our Individual Lives.


From the book,  "Although the fundamental capacity for empathy, which is part and parcel of mutual recognition, is an innate human feature, we need to receive sufficient empathy early in life to be able to attain and maintain true mutuality as well as empathic connection with ourselves and others.

After the Bath by Mary Cassatt (Wikipedia)

"Most of us have not had
 sufficient empathy early in life

Most of us have not had sufficient empathy early in life, and for many of us this means that our capacity for empathy gets stunted, both towards others and towards ourselves. The healing force that allows us to recover our lost capacity to connect is, once again, empathy. Empathic connection with another is an almost indispensable condition of psychic liberation. Although some individuals are able to choose strategic discomfort on their own, for the most part, the challenges of the journey are such that they require the presence of empathic others to sustain it. Without empathy, the likelihood of retreat into our comfort zone increases. With it, we are more capable of opening up to the discomfort and the painful emotions which await us on the journey.

That empathy per se is healing has become progressively more accepted. Being heard, in full, is one of the most profound experiences we humans can have, and has a transformative effect that more often than not we donít anticipate. Even a few minutes of this experience can sometimes transform seemingly intractable situations. Even after years of practicing and teaching empathy, I still find myself astonished at the immense power of it. In moments of intense conflict with someone, for example, I can still forget that the entire conflict can be dissolved in a few empathic exchanges, as has so often been the case."

Sub Conference: Compassionate Communication (NVC)



Beyond the Limits of Empathy
"Can empathy serve as a reliable guide to action? David Brooks, in his recent article "The Limits of Empathy," suggests that empathy is no guarantee that caring action will take place. Participants in Milgram's famous 1950s experiments willingly inflicted what they thought were near-lethal electric shocks despite suffering tremendously. Nazi executors early in the war wept while killing Jews. And yet those strong feelings didn't stop them. Why does this happen? "

Who Benefits From Empathy?
When we humanize our enemies, our resilience grows and we suffer less
"In order to be in empathic dialogue, I must be able to imagine being the other person. It's a deep discipline for me. It requires me to overcome the righteous pleasure of writing off the other person; of making myself ever so slightly superior, more human, more caring; of keeping my world safe and protected by eschewing others. I come face to face with the undeniable reality that this person who did this act is human just as much as me. I plunge into that other world, that other and different experience that gave rise to that which is mysterious to me. Through that, I find them, I find their heart, even if they have lost it."

Empathy Hurdles
"It's so much easier to analyze someone's shoes than to walk in them
"I have quoted her often, because this simple sentence captures, for me, the profound and slippery distinction between empathy and analysis. However compassionate our analysis might be, it remains external. We see from the outside. If we explain anotherís behavior through knowing or imagining their personal history, or we do so by imagining what human needs could lead to the behavior we struggle to understand, we maintain some distance from their own lived experience. We donít fill in the gap between the history and the present, or between the need and the particular choice of strategy to meet that need."

Empathy from Left Field ó A Response to Helen Smith
"I love a good challenge, and Helen Smithís recent article, How Should Conservatives Deal with the Leftís Disrespect and Lack of Empathy?, immediately called my attention. As someone whoís dedicating my life, in part, to increasing empathy all around in the culture, I found some of her comments painful, because they matched my own experience with liberals.

The Missing Empathy for the Right
In the social circles in which I find myself, and in much of the Left media, conservatives are regularly referred to as stupid (at best), backward, uncaring, or unevolved. At every opportunity I have, especially in my workshops, I invite people to look at what might be the underlying values behind conservative positions, to imagine how a decent fellow human could arrive at such opposing views. I wish I could contradict Helen Smith, but my experience only confirms what she says."


Making Collaboration Real: Miki Kashtan: Maximizing Willingness for Collaboration Decision-Making


Albany Addresses Bullying: Miki Kashtan: A Compassionate Perspective on Bullying 3/5/2011




I saw a while back you had responded to Paul Bloomís Against Empathy writings.
Paul has a video on the atlantic where he attacks empathy.

He talks about how people respond with empathy to victims and how it has negative effects.

It seems to me that empathy doesnít see victims or turn people into victims. That it is sympathy that sees victims. So if people are talking about victims, they are talking about sympathy.

It seems to me that with empathy, we see/hear the experiences, feelings and needs of all parties in the relationship. And if we foster a culture of empathy we support an empathic stance for and between all people.

I wonder what you think about that?

i think that what empathy can offer people who have suffered a lot is a sense of not being alone, of being understood and accompanied. it's an art form. many people do sympathy, many people in NVC circles do very distant empathy which is also awful.

for me it isn't quite the form. it's about allowing ourselves to be affected sufficiently by another's suffering that we can remove the barrier between us, so we can resist the temptation that many of us have to distance ourselves from the suffering so we can continue to have our life, or, conversely to make them feel better so we don't have to feel bad.

standing with someone who has suffered in the full helplessness of not knowing how to help and yet being fully there, in open heart and loving understanding, that's the best that empathy has to offer.

them's my thoughts...
Miki Kashtan