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Friday, December 13, 2013

The Power of Empathy

by Scott Heffernan:

Dr. Brené Brown is a researcher and public speaker who focuses on vulnerability, connection, authenticity, empathy, and shame. (My wife previously blogged about her here.) She is brilliant, relatable, and fun to watch. Her discourse regarding the difference between empathy and sympathy is set to animation in this creative video.

"Sympathy is, 'I'm feeling for you.' Empathy is, 'I'm feeling with you.'"

I find her words revealing and inspiring. They make me want to nurture my ability to feel and express empathy. I think it's healthy to check in with ourselves about our capacity to connect with people.

I wonder if there is anything specific to LDS culture or teachings that make us better or worse at empathy.

Sometimes we like to think we have all the answers to life's questions. But always trying to provide the "right answer" to a situation can prevent us from feeling empathy and truly connecting with those around us. Or feeling like we should have the answer, but can't seem to find it, may make us want to avoid potentially awkward conversations.

Maybe our tendency towards perfectionism deters us from reaching out when we need a listening ear or a shoulder to cry on? This, in turn, feeds our embarrassment when others are struggling, and triggers our impulse to look away and pretend we don't notice.

Some of us may view climbing down to be with those that are struggling in poor decisions and pain as somehow condoning their behavior or agreeing with their thought processes.

On the other hand, I can't think of a community of people more eager and willing to participate in ward fasts, bring dinners when a baby is born, or pitch in with funeral potatoes after the death of a loved one.

I think we are great at forgiving our neighbor and getting right back in to get our hands dirty in service when our help is needed. Don't these things count as connecting with people? Maybe this is how we express empathy.

What do you think? How are we doing as Mormons? As humans? Where do you think LDS people tend to fall on the spectrum of vulnerability, empathy, and true connection?

Many of the lines for the animation, as well as the quote above, were taken from this RSA talk.
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Scott Heffernan is an artist, designer, and photographer living in Seattle. He works on the creative team at Archie McPhee, doing all manner of strange things. He grew up a child of the 80s in Salt Lake City and loves skateboarding, toys, and thrifting. He served a mission in England/Wales and has a degree in American Sign Language from the University of Utah. He has one wife and two kids. Twitter: @ScottHeffernan. Tumblr:
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