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Rita Marie Johnson on Empathy

An interview with Rita Marie Johnson, founder of the Rasur Foundation and BePeace, talking about the nature and importance of empathy. Videotaped 2010-05-26 in Concord, California. For more, visit the Rasur Foundation and Academy for Peace Costa Rica


Rita Marie Johnson on Empathy - Empathy Documentary Project from Edwin Rutsch on Vimeo.


Initial Interview Outline

  • Introduction

    • founding director of the Rasur Foundation

    • teach a practice called BePeace in Costa Rica

    • quest to embody peace in a consistent way

    • returning to  the United States to be of service to work on peace

  • How does empathy inform your work?

    • empathy is at the heart of BePeace

    • Coherence - to feel peace we need inner order

    • how to feel peace and then how to speak peace

    • need to put ourselves in the shoes of others

    • we teach how to guess the feelings and needs of the others

    • from he empathic connection compassion evolves

  • How did your empathy evolve over the arch of your life?

    • the value in our family was responsibility - it was not about connection

    • my US culture was about efficient, create the most is a short time

    • I heard the Costa Rica had no army

    • I went to learn from them and contribute

    • the primary values there is about connection

    • people talk to each other

    • different than the US

    • worked at United Nations - models of conflict resolution

    • University of Peace

    • Introduced to Nonviolent Communications and Marshall Rosenberg

    • empathy was at the heart of the model

    • the universal needs

    • are in me and all human beings

    • found an empathic language

  • Was that the first time you used the word empathy?

    • I knew of the word but learned how to do it.

    • At the age of 10 I wanted to work for peace.

    • it was the 4th of July

    • It was evening and I took a walk

    • I saw the sunset and I was filled with peace and my heart opened

    • my inner voice said 'you will work for peace'

    • I gave my sparklers away to my brother

    • the beauty of the peace

    • my country stands for freedom

    • and my country can also stand for peace

    • I want to bring back the know-how of peace

    • freedom needs peace to be just

  • America could be a place of empathy?

    • empathy is under the surface that needs to be expressed

    • BePeace hubs to promote and practice empathy in the schools

    • when we are able to practice empathy

    • will reduce bullying, suicides, etc

    • every will feel they belong to one another

    • delicious feeling of

  • A sense of inclusion?

    • schools are so big, makes it difficult to connect

    • I grew up in a one room school house

    • we were well connected

  • How can we build a culture of empathy?

    • In Costa Rica we initiated a ministry of peace

    • Create a alliance of peace organizations

    • everyone call learn the practice of empathy and peace

    • we have a national working model of peace

    • we need peace infrastructure

  • How will your work continue here in America?

    • teach empathy courses in collages  for teachers

    • pass it on to other students

    • train leaders

    • one idea is to teach presidents and their families

      • idea form Dali Lama

  • Obama has talked about empathy, what is your impression?

    • warms my heart

    • he speaks to the empathy deficit

    • we know what to do, we have the know how

    • coherence - HeartMath - and ordered path between hearth and head

    •  we need to feel empathy in our hearts

    • as we embody peace we affect others

    • we project an energy field of peace

    • sending out a tsunami of peace

    • come form empathy and a desire to connect

    • we can touch people who feel fear

    • without language

  • Talking about presence?

    • when we are in coherence we are feeling presence

    • we not not always in peace of presence

    • we can come back faster and faster

    • we have the how to

  • Any other stories of connection and empathy?

    • my first empathy was with Sura Hart

    • she came to teach empathy and Nonviolent Communication

    • I shared a personal difficulty with her, she heard me in a connecting way

    • I got clear and made a big change in my life

    • she helped me to see how my strategy of wanting to contribute wasn't working

  • Any other milestones in learning about empathy?

    • a trainer wanted a certain strategy

    • got attached to the strategy - the mediation was difficult

    • the trainer realized something

    • we have to stay connected

    • that's what empathy is all about, it's about staying connected

    • out of the connection, a strategy will emerge

    • the outcome needs to be connection

  • Any more stories?

    • one student was unsettled

    • I observed this

    • we use bio feedback - we coach them into peace

    • at the end of the day I asked if he had conflict

    • yes, he had pulled a girl by her hair

    • I gave empathy, he had failed many examines

    • he felt he would never amount to anything

    • feelings of needing  belonging and connection, loneliness

    • a tear came down his cheek,

    • I asked, what will you do the next time you have a challenge?

    • it was an empathetic light bulb for him

    • these little experiences go deep and change us

  • Sounds like you would like to replicate that experience with all children?

    • Story of Rasur, in dream for replicating peace teachers

  • A metaphor of empathy?

    • empathy is like traveling down a beautiful path to a friends house

    • I arrive at my finds house and we go into a hot tub

    • we are both individual

    • it's the path and destination

    • it's the warm feeling

  • What is a metaphor of the opposite?

    • it's a road but there are soldiers on the path

    • they are shooting at each other

  • Dialogue between the the two paths?

    • out of hut tub talking to the soldiers

    • give them empathy, what are their needs?

    • what does it feel like

    • help them get connected with their compassion

    • get to a place of mediation

    • meet on the road

    • transform the road so everyone can share

    • to build a culture of empathy

  • What questions do you want to still explore about empathy?

    • a reach study

    • putting a name on an angry face

    • measuring the amygdala

    • placing a name to an angry face versus naming an emotion

    • test for the needs - what happens to the amygdala when we guess the needs

  • Conclusion?

    • people want to make peace

    • with the genius of NVC and Heartmath

    • we know how to achieve a feeling of peace

    • I'm thrilled to have the how to

    • We have the way to do it

    • it's not an unattainable air fairy concept

    • any human being can do it

    • it grounded in who we are as humans, science and experience

    • we can achieve peace on earth


Completely Connected: Uniting Our Empathy and Insight for Extraordinary Results
Completely Connected: Uniting Our Empathy and Insight for Extraordinary Results lays out the key features and benefits of the Connection Practice -- and it tells the touching, inspiring story of how Johnson came to discover it.

Johnson began teaching the practice in 2003 and found that it works for people of all ages from all walks of life. She has taught it to Central American leaders, rectors of universities, CEOs and their staffs, health professionals, public school teachers, troubled junior high students, adults with brain injuries, parents with challenging kids, idealistic college students and the list goes on. The fruits of this practice inspire hope in everyone it touches.

The goal of Connection Practice in schools is to prevent bullying and resolve conflicts creatively. In business, the implementation of Connection Practice increases rapport and accelerates innovation. Wherever the Connection Practice is initiated, it builds cooperative cultures.