Empathy is the ability to step into the shoes of another person, aiming to understand their feelings and perspectives and to use that understanding to guide their actions. That makes it different from kindness or pity. Research has proven that making empathy a part of our daily lives can improve the lives of everyone around us; it can be used as a radical force for social transformation.
Regrettably, today’s consumer-driven, globalised Europe could be described to be somewhat lacking in empathy, particularly when it comes to understanding the situations of so many people facing discrimination, stigmatisation or social exclusion; people who are forced to live in precarious conditions due to unemployment, low-income or debt; as well as those who are homeless or face homelessness. These numbers have only increased since the economic crisis, with the promotion of austerity and cuts to social welfare.
Nonetheless, the old view that we are essentially self-interested creatures is being nudged firmly to one side by evidence that we are also homo empathicus, wired for empathy, social cooperation, mutual aid and shared responsibilities. This much is evident by the variety of projects, training programmes and groups of individuals that seek to build empathy and overcome issues relating to stigmatisation, poverty, and the numerous crises of our times.
Please find below several examples of ACTIONS (in orange) and POLICIES (in green) that elaborate the ways in which empathy can be created, developed and learned.
Sharing resources (material/non-material)
The pooling and sharing of resources such as time, knowledge, space or food has become extremely important in a society where people lack the means for a quality standard of living or are subject to social isolation or deprivation. Actions like the ones below, that integrate the sharing of resources, lead to shared experiences and responsibilities, thus bringing people of a community together who might not otherwise have met or been aware of the others' situation.
We all have assumptions about others and often use collective labels—e.g., “Muslim fundamentalist,” “welfare mothers”, “the ‘lazy’ poor”—that prevent us from appreciating or understanding the true individuality or the reality of certain people. The following examples demonstrate how empathy building classes, particularly among young persons, can be incorporated into education and daily life.
Awareness is the state or ability to perceive, to feel, or to be conscious of events, objects, or sensory patterns. To raise awareness is to attempt to focus the attention of a wider group of people on some cause or condition like homelessness, prejudicial attacks or environmental issues. Since informing the populace of a public concern is often regarded as the first step to changing how the institutions (or citizens themselves) handle it, raising awareness is often the first activity in which advocacy groups, activists, or others engage.
ALL examples of Actions and Policies
A Város Mindenkié (The City is For All) is a grassroots organisation mainly composed of homeless people fighting for their rights and dignity.
Workshops to raise awareness among high school students in order that they identify and deconstruct stereotypes and misconceptions
A community of lay Combonian missionaries obtains a space whereby it starts a process of co-habitation by the pooling together of resources. The new space is also aimed at being a place of welcome and hospitality for people in need.