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Empathy for All

Empathy for Trump and Hillary?…Really? Yes, really.
As the election looms nearer…

it seems that polarized opinions get louder and louder. Fights on social media, fights at public events, fights within families — it’s exhausting having to listen to the various opinions and heated debates. At this point, I’ve seen and heard many people starting to shut down. They no longer want to engage in media or the argument. They don’t want to hear out their fellow brethren’s ‘moronic’ opinions on why they support Hillary or Trump. Regardless of my own political opinion, I don’t blame those that no longer wish to actively engage in discussion. Frankly, I’m one of them.

But for me there is a bright side to this whole debacle, and that is my own epiphany and affirmation for the great need for empathy. Empathy is a characteristic of design thinking for collaborative problem-solving. To be empathetic is to put yourself in someone else’s shoes, and find something in yourself that allows you to relate to them.

Brené Brown has a great video on empathy vs. sympathy:

If you are unwilling to empathize with people, you can’t build trust, and you can’t truly create shared understanding which is necessary to solving wicked problems. It is a core competency of Design Thinking and Design Leadership, one that should be practiced and cultivated.

Empathy isn’t easy.

You have to consciously decide to relinquish control, remove judgement, and put yourself in a position of vulnerability to say to yourself:

“I don’t understand, but I’m going to try.”

I’m going to search for something in what you’re saying that I can relate to and create understanding with. Creating shared understanding is imperative as we move into the experience economy, and it’s astounding how little we truly practice empathy.

There is a lack of empathy in the election this year. We have become so emotionally attached to our own opinions we have closed ourselves off to understanding the other side. We don’t realize or are not willing to acknowledge that people’s opinions are products of their experience, people are not inherently ‘evil’ or ‘bad’ without cause (most of the time). Understanding that experience and why people feel the way they do, can help us to create peace out of tension and opposing ideas. So why don’t we try harder to do that? Because empathy is hard!

And what they don’t tell you is that when we think of empathy we often imagine it only applied to those that we think deserve it.

A true leader,

someone with a mastery of emotional intelligence, can practice empathy not only with those that they believe deserve it, but with those that they believe do NOT deserve it. This requires an incredible amount of patience and self-control. You have to acknowledge your own personal bias, and overcome the initial reaction to say it’s not worth the emotional exhaustion. To be able to practice empathy not only with those that you believe deserve it, but with those that you believe don’t is the mark of a great leader. We have to challenge ourselves to be more empathetic and mean it. Luckily there is great opportunity to practice through this election.

So as much as I would like to completely shut myself out of the drama involved in the debates, I recognize the need in myself to truly try to understand how and why people support these candidates. By doing so, I can expand my understanding of the human experience and broaden my ability to have empathy for all.

Madison Stevens

Design Leader and Strategist M.F.A, Design Thinking and Leadership


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