"Big Empathy is about expanding our empathy to embrace
the suffering and well-being of more of life, more deeply,
more competently, and more seamlessly than
we normally do."
Tom writes: "The co-intelligence worldview embraces
empathy as a fundamental principle, while noting its limitations when
framed only as an individual feeling. Empathy plays a powerful role in
the wise use of intelligence.
Like intelligence, empathy can be exercised in narrow ways that result
in undesirable outcomes or in enlightened ways that support wisdom.
Also like intelligence, expanded forms of empathy can be embedded in
cultures and social systems to generate wiser collective outcomes.
Tom Atlee's major essay Big Empathy proposes that we
need to expand our empathy in three ways:
1. widen our "circle of care" to include more beings of more species
over greater time periods;
2. become better practitioners of empathy; and
3. embed empathy in our cultures and social systems."
Tom Atlee: 2014 Empathic Individualism Award Recipient
Our first annual Empathic Individualism Award recipient is Tom Atlee,
Director of the Co-Intelligence Institute in Eugene, Oregon. This award
is given to individuals who make an outstanding contribution to the
understanding and application of empathy in social life with an emphasis
of balancing individuality and active caring for others.
Overview Page: Co-Intelligent Perspectives on Empathy
"The co-intelligence worldview embraces empathy as a fundamental principle,
while noting its limitations when framed as an individual feeling. Empathy
plays a powerful role in the wise use of intelligence. Like intelligence,
empathy can be embedded in cultures and social systems to generate wiser
outcomes. Tom Atlee's major essay on the
subject of "big empathy" is "Big
Empathy" which proposes that we need to expand our empathy in three ways:..."
to Greater Empathy
Big Empathy is about expanding our empathy to embrace the suffering and
well-being of more of life, more deeply, more competently, and more seamlessly
than we normally do. Below are six potentially complementary paths – not
methods, but general approaches – to developing greater empathy. Of course, in
order to enhance empathy, they must be undertaken with a desire to truly
connect with the Other.
1. LISTENING – I’m speaking here of deep listening,
empathic listening, reflective listening – listening intended to deeply
understand the Other so that they feel truly understood....
2. SELF AWARENESS – We are all universal beings....
3. NARRATIVE ARTS – Stories can help us experience the
inner and outer life of the Other. ...
4. IMMERSION – It is one thing to listen to, read or
think about someone else’s life experience. It is quite another to actually
live our life like theirs for a while. This is immersive empathy....
5. SCIENCES – Understanding causal and functional
dynamics can deepen our capacity to enter into experiences and realities
otherwise alien to us. ...
6. RESPONSIVE CARING – In caring, our empathic
sensibilities merge with our will. "
Empathy as Part of Co-Intelligence
"Few people – including myself until recently – have realized how important
empathy is to co-intelligence. Here I focus on four important connectors
between empathy and co-intelligence – being heard, random selection, effective
deep understanding, and resonant intelligence – that are fundamental to the
creation of a truly wise democracy.
Late in March I was told that I would be given the first Credere award for
promoting “empathic individualism”.
At first this struck me as odd. While I have written about empathy a number of
times, it has certainly not been my central focus. Furthermore, I know a
number of colleagues for whom empathy IS their focus – and some of them are
doing excellent work worthy of such an award. "
Upshifting our limited empathy to face Big Issues
"Our empathy is built in us with a kind of disconnect which can
make it hard to usefully integrate our feelings with our reason. This has
profound implications for the climate crisis, the possibilities of nuclear
war, and many other “extinction level” issues. A leading negotiator offers a
provocative story to stimulate our thinking about this, to which I add some
Dear friends, Our empathy is built into most of us, but with a kind of
disconnect which makes it hard for us to integrate our feelings with our
reason – especially when we face giant issues with widespread but distant or
Empathy, personal and systemic
"Empathy starts out as a personal feeling of resonance with another’s pain or
joy. It moves on to become the practice of stepping into another’s shoes – and
having them feel heard and understood. We need our empathy to expand and
evolve so that it embraces more people and living things, and so that it shows
up as part of our cultures and our social systems – not only helping us feel
more empathy but also stimulating the products of empathy – bonding,
partnership, and mutual aid – even when we are not personally feeling
particularly empathetic. We need all this more than ever, since we have become
so thoroughly interdependent. Our ability to survive and thrive – even being
effectively self-interested – actually depends on it."
Empathy notes #1: Reconceptualizing Security (on Interdependence Day)
"Empathy – the ability to put ourselves in another’s shoes – has been an ideal
of many if not most religions for millennia. Some call it compassion. Some
call it love. Its moral imperative can be found in the numerous versions of
the Golden Rule. In its most extreme form we find it in the admonition to
“Love your neighbor as yourself.”
And today, after thousands of years, empathy has become a practical necessity,
a matter of enlightened – and even not-so-enlightened – self-interest. Many
reasons for this could be cited, but here’s a major one that has yet to
blossom in public consciousness:"
Empathy notes #2: Imagining Real National Security – Empathy versus Empire
"Current approaches to “defense” and “security” often damage our actual
well-being rather than enhancing it. The massive resources currently wasted on
counterproductive strategies of “defense” and “security” can be invested to
promote real security. National and global security regimes can get real by
grounding their work in empathy and addressing universal human needs."
Empathy notes #3: Empathy versus rationality? by Tom Atlee
"Obviously Bloom and Harris-Gershon are making
excellent points – especially that we need to expand beyond the
narrow focus of most empathy. But there is a serious fallacy in
their reasoning: they pose empathy and reason as opposed sides
in a dichotomy. They have framed the issue as reason, logic, and
statistics VERSUS emotion, empathy, and compassion.
While acknowledging the value of empathy, both essayists argue
that reason is far superior for dealing with today’s challenges.
However, their arguments narrowly focus on the shortcomings of
empathy, neglecting the considerable shortcomings of
Empathy notes #4: Toward
an era of wise caring
"Reason and feeling each have gifts and limitations. Used well together they
generate wise caring. There are examples of wise caring in earlier human
societies and we have an opportunity today to build on them and enhance that
capacity in our whole civilization."
Down deep within us – underlying everything that we think, feel and do – we
find our needs burning brightly along with our values (the cultural expression
of our needs). When I say “needs” I’m referring to deep universal needs, such
as our needs for love, expression, nutrition, control, respect, etc. I’m not
referring to the specific desires and strategies we pursue – like a new car or
time with our children – in an effort to meet those fundamental needs.