Category Archives: Life

What is Empathy?

With Empathy Day coming up on the 12th June, I’m having thoughts about what exactly empathy is.

There is a kind of animal empathy which is the innate and learned understanding of facial expressions and body language. It’s an almost universal language.

Innate animal empathy allows us to look at that smiley face above and understand the emotion portrayed. You can probably look at this group of Apple Emoji and give a pretty good approximation of the emotion each one portrays.

No matter where you were in the world, if you couldn’t speak the language, You would know if someone was happy or sad, tired or despondent, tense or relaxed. This kind of empathy oils the daily process of rubber ing along with other human beings.

Then there is a deeper kind of empathy – more psychological – definitely a learned thing.

It’s not sympathy – Sympathy is a feeling and showing of concern and. Sympathy is born of empathy.

Empathy is not compassion either – Compassion is more practical. It is sympathy with action, to help from a more distant position.

Empathy is the the parent of both those emotions. Without empathy there would be no reason to get involved in anything.

Empathy is placing yourself inside the shoes of another and looking at the world through their eyes, dropping your beliefs and prejudices for a moment, and really trying to understand how someone else views the world you share.

At that point, you may alter your views and re-examine your beliefs. At that point you may choose to have sympathy or compassion. You don’t have to though.

Maybe understanding is a closer description?

Seeing the world through another’s eyes does not mean you have to be best friends or that you have to help or fundraise for them.

You may detest the person whose eyes you look through – Hitler… Stalin… Shipman, maybe?  But by looking through their eyes, you may better understand how the world works and how you may defend yourself, your beliefs and your freedoms.

How best to see the world through other’s eyes? How to understand Hitler or Mother Theresa, the condemned man, the six year old child, the aged-aunt, the fluffy celebrity or a politician in free-fall?

Read a book.

Reading a book is like putting on a second skin – living in a different but similar world – wearing someone else’s shoes – looking out through someone else’s eyes.

Unlike another medium, you are at the centre of the story. You are looking out through the eyes of the protagonist. You are creating the scenery as you go along. You are creating an inner understanding of another person’s mind that will never go away.

Read a book – more than anything else, they are manuals to a deeper understanding of life.



Empathy Day 12th June

I’m going to be inThe New Forest on Empathy Day, this 12th of June. So will Sue Hendra, author of the wonderful Supertato, that I have enjoyed reading with children before. We will be at Netley Marsh CE Infant School, talking about and encouraging the skill of empathy with the children there, using ur books, stories and drawing.

Empathy day has been championed by Empathy Lab who have been researching the effect that reading has on empathy. A book is like no other medium. Movies and TV show you. We watch as observers. Empathy is about getting inside another person and seeing the world through their eyes. Nothing does this quite as well as a book.

We create the pictures inside our heads as we read, slowly filling the shoes of the characters and viewing the world through their eyes. This is a deep, sustained form of empathy lat lets us experience this world, and others – from the point of view of people, animals creatures and inanimate objects we might never encounter in real life.

Building the skills of empathy allow us to see the world through the eyes of our nearest and dearest, our neighbours and our foes. This understanding is the base point of sympathy, compassion and, most importantly, understanding, which is the root of peaceful negotiation and agreement.

On Empathy Day itself, I’ll be blogging about a book – a diary – that made a terrific impression on me, allowing me to see beautifully drawn Victorian characters in an awful situation as real human beings. I’ve always thought of the Victorians as stuffy, stupid or cruel. Reading the book allowed me see and feel the humanity and share the trials and tribulations of the people involved.

So, I’ll be thinking a lot about empathy over the next couple of weeks and may well come back to the subject. If you could look outing through someone else’s eyes, who would that person be and why?

Irritating Phone Scams

I’m registered with the Telephone Preference Service, but that doesn’t help when the caller is phoning from India.- they aren’t covered by UK law.

There’s always a pause when I pick up the phone to a nuisance call. They have called me randomly. On pick up, software allocates me as to the first free operator, who then starts reading from the script.

They used to engage when you began asking questions, but not any more. If you ask what company is calling…click! You are left holding a dead line. You are not worth wasting time on.

I used to argue and complain and inform them that they are breaking the law, cold-calling someone on the Telephone Preference Service, but they don’t care. Am I really going to follow up and report them and go though some great legal process? Of course not.

So I trained myself to answer civilly and, as soon as I am sure they are a scam or cold-calling about something I have no interest in, I put the phone down and move on.

So why do I still have a knot in my stomach?

Why do I find my muscles tensed?

Because cold-calling is an invasion of my time and privacy and an attack on my intelligence. I’m feeling tense because I’m protecting myself from an invader.

Then follows the lingering doubt – maybe they wanted information for a good cause? Maybe it was just some poor student trying to pay their way through college?




But I truly don’t think so!