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.