Empathy Defined

If you can learn a simple trick, Scout, you’ll get along a lot better with all kinds of folks. You never really understand a person until you consider things from his point of view, until you climb inside of his skin and walk around in it.
– Atticus Finch in To Kill A Mockingbird by Harper Lee

Empathy is one of those words that appears easy to define, yet it tends to become muddy when we explore how each person interprets the act of being empathetic. As a kid, like many others, I was told that empathy was about walking in another person’s shoes, similar to the Atticus Finch quote above. While this is a simple concept that doesn’t really need much more definition, there are plenty of people that argue that this definition fails to encompass empathy’s full definition for western culture. I understand their perspective, but question their goals of further defining empathy. Do they seek to be correct? Do they hope to help more people understand and impact more people through this more intense definition? Let’s talk about it!

Personally, we have avoided defining empathy because we believe that coming to a singular definition is not the goal of Empathy Lab. The lab’s goal is to to drastically improve the way we build and share empathy. Our goal is to have others, individuals in a community talk about empathy and create a collaborative definition that is the most relevant and true to their needs. It is their agreement and or disagreement that we are interested in most, because that is where differences are talked about, understood, and empathy is built.

Here are some quotes about empathy that might add to your personal definition. We will continually add to this as we find more juicy ones.

If you can learn a simple trick, Scout, you’ll get along a lot better with all kinds of folks. You never really understand a person until you consider things from his point of view, until you climb inside of his skin and walk around in it.
– Atticus Finch in To Kill A Mockingbird by Harper Lee

I’ve been reading Kofi Annan’s book “Interventions: A Life in War and Peace.” It’s interesting that this man from Ghana would have such a penchant for peace in the world — and such empathy. I think we all have empathy. We may not have enough courage to display it. I just wanted to see how he got that way.

– Maya Angelou conversation with The New York Times