Reflecting Allowed

Maha Bali’s blog about education

Empathic Feeling, Empathic Understanding and Empathic Praxis

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Epiphany post ahead. Possibly stating the obvious but as a model. I haven’t researched this to check.

So I am thinking empathy is multidimensional:

  1. Affective: I call it empathic feeling: to feel how someone else is feeling. This can happen without us understanding necessarily, but I suppose empathic understnading HELPS us feel, but does not automatically make us feel for another’s suffering. It’s also an attitude of choosing to allow yourself to care for another. Sometimes u suppress it to help someone (e.g. Surgeons)
  2. Cognitive: empathic understanding: a process of understanding how someone has come to feel a certain way, the why of how they got there, the why of how their journey got them to feel that particular way. A lot of what we do  n edu to promote empathy focuse on this dimension. But does it necessarily lead to full-on empathy? It may or may not. Because understanding is always interpretation (Gadamer) and as such, we only understand another persons story through our personal lens and history.  The more different another person is from us, the more ww need to concede that parts of them are not easily knowable to us, not because they cannot express it well, but because there is too much lived complexity that we cannot gain secondhand. It’s like living with a person who has depression. You don’t fully “get it” if you haven’t been depressed to that extent before. Men may never fully understand the experience of being a woman in a patriarchal society, but when they seek to understand more, they will be able to act better.and when they act bettee, they will be able to understand more (see below).
  3. Action/skill: I wanna call this empathic praxis, actually. It’s about how our knowledge and reflection and feelings inform our action and vice versa. Skills and actions in this dimension include empathic listening, allyship (acting to support another in empathy even when we don’t fully know what they feel exactly). It is where we recognize that empathy with that other is important and we constantly seek to understand better, to listen more, to put ourselves in situations to help us understand better. Like living in a refugee camp (however temporarily). This is a risky business. So there is a lot of intentionality in wanting to do this. But the key thing is this attitude of caring to know more and therefore behaving in ways that make us learn more and then acting to make a difference

Does this sound like it makes sense to you? Am I missing something (other than examples!)? 

In all cases I retunr to what I said at a DML VC hangout. We shouldn’t seek shortcuts to developing or promoting empathy. It requires deep and sustained engagement from our hearts, minds and bodies. Any other dimensions?

P.S. Added later. Found an article about 3 types of empathy (similar but not exactly same). And this book chapter which I think is based on same theories. Quote:

The three dimensions of empathy are perspective taking, emotional dimensions, and a genuine concern for the welfare of the other 

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