On the wildly misunderstood word.
With the “Empathy and Compassion in Society” conference coming up in San Francisco next week, I am focusing once again on these two themes, which feel as comforting as old friends.
When empathy and conversation are not part of the conversation about the great social issues we face today–from income inequality to climate change to political corruption–the challenges seem too heavy, too big, too unmanageable. Similarly, in our personal lives, when empathy and compassion are not part of how we journey through personal conflicts, everything seems more harsh and bleak.
But even briefly remembering our basic human capacity for empathy and compassion, I feel I can breathe again. And in that more spacious, less anxious or sad or angry place, there is also much greater potential for transformation, which is, of course, the power that lies within these two wildly misunderstood words.
As I recently wrote in Forbes, empathy is too often misunderstood as a soft trait — or more to the point, weak. But this could not be further from the truth. For empathy and compassion are far more likely to help us cultivate the genuine, deep changes we need than any approach that leaves them out. That is why the cultural thinker Roman Krznaric titled his new book, Empathy: A Handbook for Revolution.
I look forward to hearing Krznaric, Karen Armstrong, Paul Eckman, Dan Siegel, Rick Hanson, Angelica Berrie and others speak on these topics next week. Please join me if you can.