Empathy is the ability to see and feel the world as others do. Simply put it relies on the ability to do two things. First, to be aware of the emotions of others and second, to ‘put yourself in the other person’s place’.
The old saying “I feel your pain” and “Walk a mile in my shoes” refer to these related abilities of emotional empathy and perspective taking. “Tell it to the hand” is the opposite: it means the person is not at all interested in what you are saying or feeling.
Empathy is considered to be a key element of Emotional Intelligence, the link between self and others. Emotional Intelligence is different from IQ – having the smarts to do the job. Emotional Intelligence or EQ is highly prized as it helps people operate more effectively in the social context and to manage and motivate others – even design better products and services.
Empathy is known to be associated strongly with impulsive giving and the giving brings a feeling of satisfaction along with it. Charities rely on empathy to motivate people to give both their money – as a gift – and their time – in volunteering.
Empathy – the experience of feeling for others and seeing the world the way they see it – is also being tied to the idea of practical empathy, not just feeling for others but taking the personal responsibility to do something about it through behaviors like setting up your own social enterprise/business.
So we need to develop empathy as part of educating our children, but we also need something more than empathy, more than the impulsiveness that leads giving of time and money, though that is a good start. Developing practical empathy means developing the capability to take responsibility for the outcomes for others, and in a way that can last over the long term.