Empathic Action in the time of COVID-19

Faculty Focus

The coronavirus pandemic is, or will be, tragic for some, devastating for many, and disruptive for everyone. Our natural reaction to those who are suffering is sympathy. When someone sends their “thoughts and prayers” they are expressing sympathy. 

Sympathy is different from empathy. Sympathy is when we feel sorry for someone else’s misfortune, even if we can’t imagine what it is like to be in their situation. Empathy is when we imagine what it is like to be that other person, in their situation, experiencing their thoughts, ideas, and emotions. 

Amidst the growing impacts of the pandemic, there is a silver lining — an awakening of empathy.  

The cultural pressures and social norms that have led us to unsustainable behaviors — conspicuous consumption, exploitation of people and nature — have also led us to lose our innate capacity for empathy. We may care, especially individually, but not enough to take meaningful action, especially collectively.

When you are able to empathize with other people, you recognize that we are all connected, that we all share a common humanity, and that we are all inherently worthy as human beings.

If we want to create and live in a world that is rich with connections to people, community, and nature, a world that is caring and resilient, we must be able to practice empathy.

How might we — as individuals, as community members, and as leaders —shift our focus from seeking money and status to seeking a simpler, balanced life that is rich with connections to people, community, and environment? 

One key to enabling this shift is empathy. 
And you can start here.

Anita Nowak has devoted her career to studying and developing tools for empathy and empathic action.

You can watch her current series of 100 daily Empathic Action videos on YouTube, intended to inspire empathy + action in the face of COVID-19.

You can also take our free “mini-course” Empathic Action for Delivering the Good Life, developed in partnership with Sustainable Brands. 

If you want to dig even deeper, explore all of the resources on Dr. Nowak’s website and consider joining our program where you’ll take her course called Creative Leadership

Denise DeLuca / Former Director

Denise DeLuca is the Director of MCAD’s Sustainable Design program. She was co-founder of BCI: Biomimicry Creative for Innovation, a network of creative professional change agents driving ecological thinking for radical transformation. Denise is author of the book Re-Aligning with Nature: Ecological Thinking for Radical Transformation, which was illustrated by MASD alum Stephanie Koehler. She also teaches with the Amani Institute.

Denise’s previous roles include Education Director for the International Living Future Institute, Project Manager for Swedish Biomimetics 3000, and Outreach Director for The Biomimicry Institute. Denise is a licensed civil engineer (PE) and holds a master’s degree in civil and environmental engineering with a focus on modeling landscape-scale surface and groundwater interactions.  In addition, Denise is a Biomimicry Fellow and a member of the Advisory Council of The Biomimicry InstituteBoard Member of the International Society of Sustainability Professionals (ISSP), on the editorial board of the Journal of Bionic Engineering, and an Expert with Katerva. Denise is based in Oregon.

contact:  [email protected]