Once More With Feeling: The Power of Empathy

Image courtesy of Idea go at FreeDigitalPhotos.net
Image courtesy of Idea go at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

“Do you know why you tilt your head that way? …

It’s an involuntary reflex in your physiology. It changes the angle at which sound waves hit your eardrum, allowing in more stimuli. Like a lizard. I’ve studied them too. Intriguing characters… their brains have evolved over 320 million years… yet for all their evolution, they form no bonds. Love does not exist for them. They are incapable of dreaming, of contemplating beauty, of knowing something greater than themselves. Not unlike your kind. The experiments we conducted right here in this lab yielded a surprising result: Because, for all your years of evolution, you inadvertently redeveloped and honed primitive instincts, that we moved beyond, long ago. So in reality, you’re the animal.”

If you are fans of ‘Fringe’, you’ll remember when ‘Nina Sharp’ delivered this powerful speech to an ‘Observer’ – the show’s analytical, ruthless, ‘evolved’ human villain who felt nothing in the destruction of our species. It was her final speech before she died. It slayed me. I remember watching it while I was working out, stopping mid breath, pausing the TV so I could run and get my phone to record the speech. It was just so good, so poignant about the power of humanity, the beauty of mankind. And it has inspired this post, many months later.

Empathy. The power of it. You wouldn’t assume that I would be one to focus on the mushy stuff. I’m the ambitious badass, right? Well, sometimes. I like to punch through walls, shoot through glass ceilings, but I often do so AFTER I’ve taken it all in, marveled at the world and its possibilities, and even shed a few tears.

As women in the biz, we are told to get tough, shut off our emotions, develop a thick skin… and not take anything personally. But having those emotions and having them evoked by another person and caring for another person in a way that women know best is what makes us uniquely wondrous. It gives us the power to understand the person sitting across from us, to ‘get into their shoes’. And in doing so, I believe this empowers us as creatives, business women and people.

But don’t take my word for it.

I don’t think that empathy is given enough power and attention in the mainstream media; I feel like it is likened to sympathetic or weak, as if empathizing with someone is a weakness. So I dug into my virtual folders of research and have curated a set of links to articles and a video that will give you a fresh and hopefully inspiring look at the power of empathy.

1. Forget the Placebo Effect: It’s the ‘Care Effect’ That Matters’, by Nathaneal Johnson. Wired. 1.18.13

We start off in the medical realm. Everyone knows about the placebo effect. You take a sugar pill, thinking its something else, and it seems to work. This is a fascinating article that takes it one step further and reveals studies where placebos were at work in both groups… and it’s the type of care that the patient receives which impact the recovery.  It’s crazy good!.

2. Forbes Book Review: ‘Tell to Win’ by Peter Gruber

We’re back in Hollywood now (though this review is on a financial site). I read Peter Guber’s book a few years ago, and his opening chapters really stuck with me. He weaves a magical thread on the power of connected storytelling, how it bridges culture gaps and industries. I started to see the way that people interacted and related on an entirely new level.  From fashion, to institutional banking to Hollywood, it’s all about forming your business plan in the guise of a story. It’s how we best connect… because we can empathize.  This reviewer gives a great overview, including having some questions answered by Peter himself.  Peter also gets brownie points from me when he brought in a scientific element to help explain connection between people by discussing mirror neurons.

3. ‘Cells The Read Minds’: by Sandra Blakeslee. New York Times

And what are mirror neurons you ask? This is why we are empathetic, some more than others. Back to science we go. Wikipedia states: A mirror neuron is a neuron that fires both when an animal acts and when the animal observes the same action performed by another. Thus, the neuron “mirrors” the behavior of the other, as though the observer were itself acting. Simply put, I see you cry, and I cry. They are the foundation for empathy and potentially our social evolution. I found the above article from the NYTimes brief and entertaining (though dated) but you can go Googling on your own to explore more recent research.

4.  TEDx PSU: ‘A Radical Experiment in Empathy’ by Sam Richards –

Just watch this video. It will shift your perspective on life and your fellow man. Sam Richards needs to be on the stage giving this presentation all the time. The last minute of his speech is one of the more empowering and inspirational messages I’ve ever heard.

5. Giving What We Can.

If you watched the TED video (even if you didn’t), being in the empathetic mindset inspires the desire to give back, especially to those less fortunate. I am not the best about volunteering or donating (I’m a procrastinator!) but this site sits on my desktop to remind me that I can be doing more.

Boom. Use those female intuitive emotions for good! They are scientifically proven to be powerful! Well at least in my little world. Which will hopefully connect to yours.  And don’t forget to share your stories (even in the comments)… they connect us all.