In the business of communication empathy was considered as a feeling to be expressed in crisis communication to show that we ‘care’ and make it easier for our message to be credible within audiences that are suffering the consequences of the crisis itself. Indeed, many people confuse empathy with sympathy, while empathy is much more.
Definitely empathy was not a centre of gravity of mass communication until the advent of Social Media, which was just made possible by communication technology and did not create a new artificial need. On the contrary, Social Media met a basic, natural need or quality of human beings: to be empathetic.
The English word Empathy is derived from the ancient Greek word ἐμπάθεια (empatheia), “physical affection, passion, partiality.” It therefore encompasses a broad range of emotional states, including caring for other people and having a desire to help them, and the ability to feel and share another person’s emotions. This is just part of our instinct, as it is for many other animals. We strongly feel empathy for our relatives and friends, but also for unknown people. Sometimes even for our enemies.
With digital communications, friends and family are never far away and the notion of ‘friendship’ was enlarged, to include unknown or little known people who just share our interests, or our values. Many believe that the ultimate risk of heavy technology use is that it diminishes empathy by limiting how much people engage with one another, even in the same room.
In mass communications, however, this negative effect is not relevant. Social Media has made us addicted to a large daily dose of empathy and we start missing this also in other forms of communication.
One way communication is no longer credible and no dialogue can be established with our audience without using empathy as our baseline, as the key to establish rapport and build trustworthy communication. And empathy is better convened or triggered using visual communication, no matter what tool or channel we are using to communicate. This change is very evident in all forms of contemporary communication.
We may actually need to change our approach from one of ‘introspection’ to ‘outrospection’, as this video suggests:
The birth of a museum devoted to this aspect of human relationships is therefore important to the world of communication. It is not a place where to observe testimonies of empathic, it is instead a place where to practice and learn empathy.
Empathy is a more popular concept today than at any time in the last century. It’s on the lips of everyone from Barack Obama to the Dalai Lama, from business gurus to happiness experts. Neuroscience research reveals that 98% of people have the ability to empathise – but few of us reach our full empathic potential.
The museum’s first initiative was, in September, ‘A Mile in My Shoes’, an interactive shoe-shop where visitors were invited to literally walk a mile in the shoes of a stranger while listening to their story. And if we learn how to ‘walk in the shoes’ of our audiences we will certainly be able to effectively communicate with them.