Meet Adam Reichart. He's a 44-year-old homeless man who lives in San Francisco. In his city alone there are 6,500 men and women living without homes. Those are the people Reichart hoped to shine a light on when he agreed to volunteer as part of the Homeless GoPro project.
And he's got some wisdom to share:
"People are losing their compassion and their empathy, not just for homeless people but for society in general."
Empathy, Rowan Williams argued in his first Tanner Lecture, is a tool for seeing the self.
Yate yesterday, in a packed Paine Hall, Rowan Williams, the 104th archbishop of Canterbury, gave the first of his Tanner Lectures on Human Values — part of a traditional series delivered at nine or more universities across the world since 1979.
With a complex critique of empathy, he quickly got into the spirit of what philanthropist Obert Clark Tanner intended for the series he founded: “a search,” Harvard President Drew Faust reminded the audience, “for a better understanding of human behavior and human values.”
And who better to investigate the meaning of empathy, said Homi K. Bhabha in his introduction, than Williams, a theologian, philosopher of language, poet, and translator?
Williams used his Tuesday lecture, “The Other as Myself: Empathy and Power,” to critique certain ideas of empathy:
Kelly McEvers talks to Leslie Jamison, author of the new essay collection, The Empathy Exams: Essays. The book takes the writer on a quest to figure out how others feel empathy.
Author Leslie Jamison says that as an emotional response, empathy is always perched precariously between gift and invasion. Her new book of essays is called "The Empathy Exams." In it, she writes about prisoners, medical students, extreme runners and ex-boyfriends. It's all part of her quest to understand how others feel empathy and how she can feel it, too.
It is a basic tenet of mainstream filmmaking that you want the audience to identify with your protagonist: to go on an emotional journey with them, to empathise with them. What, then, are the particular challenges filmmakers face when the protagonist is living with a mental illness?
Given the stigma that is still prevalent towards mental illness, how can filmmakers break down these barriers that inhibit the empathetic relationship between character and viewer?
If sympathy suggests feeling for someone (that is, feeling sorry for them), empathy is distinguished by feeling with them. ============
Each of the 11 essays in a Leslie Jamison’s brilliant collection, “The Empathy Exams,’’ touches, in one way or another, on ideas of empathy (which implies pain, victimization, sensitivity) and voice (which implies creativity, agency, expression).
‘My job is medical actor,” writes Leslie Jamison at the start of her new book’s title essay, “which means I play sick.” The job requires Jamison to assume the role of a patient — memorizing an imaginary person’s biography and complaints, answering medical students’ questions, offering only what is asked of her — so that future doctors can better inhabit their own roles.
According to Webster's Dictionary, the definition of "empathy" is "the feeling that you understand and share another person's experiences and emotions." Author Leslie Jamison has sought to personify what it is to "feel" in her latest book "The Empathy Exams."
The 29 year-old chronicles her adventures playing sick for med school students; surviving an assault on the streets of Nicaragua; understanding the past lives of inmates, and even our relationship with the word saccharine, and how its artificially sweet meaning translates well beyond food and drink.
Empathy is the ability to perceive and react to another person’s emotions.
Much attention has been paid to empathy regarding negative emotions, but little is known about how (or if) we respond to positive emotions in the same way. Now, a new study reports that joy may be harder to share than distress. Psychology researchers used functional magnetic resonance imaging to evaluate the neural networks of 21 adults in response to positive and negative emotional stimuli.
Empathy is fundamental to human emotion and social experience and it has strong evolutionary roots. ========
In a way it's hardly surprising. After all, this is what being "powerful" is largely about: not having to pay a lot of attention to what those around one are thinking and feeling. The powerful employ others to do that for them.
Lecture 1 - "The Other as Myself: Empathy and Power"
Lecture 2 - "Myself as Stranger: Empathy and Loss"
Despite that optimism, “The Paradoxes of Empathy” was the title of the 2014 Tanner Lectures on Human Values delivered at Harvard last week by Rowan Williams, archbishop of Canterbury from 2002 to 2012.
Fellow feeling alone, he argued, cannot serve as a solution to the world’s problems. “An ethical discourse which gives central place to empathy as emotional identification draws our attention away from questions of culture and power,” he told a packed audience in Paine Hall. “Ethics isn’t just about single acts of evil or virtue. Evil is not overcome merely by identifying and correcting the dysfunction of individual brains. It’s inseparably bound in to what is made possible or impossible by structures of habit, belief, and advantage.”
Empathy, therefore, is grounded in humility. Quoting Stein, he said, “The empathic position is one in which we know that we are not the other.”
You need not have watched the first U.S. presidential debate on October 3rd to know what happened. Mitt Romney won the debate in the eyes of most that watched. He succeeded, in part, by creating a narrative, telling stories, and using a strong sense of empathy to connect with citizens.
Founded by entrepreneur Kevin Adler and a handful of like-minded activists, Homeless GoPro is setting out to bridge the “empathy divide” that keeps San Francisco’s middle and upper classes from interacting with — or often even acknowledging — its 6,500 street dwellers.
Most of the research on contagious yawning (though a recent paper questioned this connection) has focused on the role of empathy. But we’re not talking about compassion or even cognitive empathy — we’re talking about a really unconscious, low-level impetus to relate to others.
Think, Platek suggests, of a televised sporting event: If you watch a football player get a terrible sports injury on TV, you might flinch, develop a sympathy pain, or react physiologically in some immediate way. This is the type of empathy researchers are referring to when they discuss its role in yawns. Interestingly, people with autism or schizotypal personality disorder — neurological conditions characterised by a lack of even low-level empathy — do not catch yawns as frequently.
The first of a series of roundtables around the topic of Empathy.
Recorded July, 2013 at the Massachusetts Historical Society's Dowse Library. Featuring: Dr. Marco Iacoboni Dr. Mary Hellen Immordino-Yang Dr. Robert Weller Dr. Adam Seligman Leslie Jamison Ben Doepke & the SEEK company (host)
But perhaps there is power even in protocol. In her title essay, Jamison writes about serving as a “standardized patient”; that is, an actor describing her maladies for the benefit of burgeoning medical students.
She literally adopts a persona and follows a script, all in an effort to test the medical student’s use of protocol. Did they acknowledge her as a human being? Did they voice empathy? By essay’s end, when the playacting turns real—when there are struggles beyond the script—Jamison notes, “Whatever we can’t hold we hang on a hook that will hold it.” Yes. That’s exactly what we do, isn’t it? And when empathy is the product of death, the hook in question often comes in the form of a sympathy card.
In “The Empathy Exams,” her extraordinary new book of essays, she calls to mind writers as disparate as Joan Didion and John Jeremiah Sullivan as she interrogates the palpitations of not just her own trippy heart but of all of ours.
Her book isn’t, except in passing, a medical memoir. “The Empathy Exams” bounces among topics. There are essays on travel in dangerous territories, on men in prison, on extreme endurance races, on saccharine, on murder trials, on unusual diseases, on women and pain. Ms. Jamison’s mind plays across topics as disparate as the HBO series “Girls” and the morphology of folk tales.
“Empathy isn’t just something that happens to us — a meteor shower of synapses firing across the brain — it’s also a choice we make: to pay attention, to extend ourselves,”
At one point in her extraordinary essay collection The Empathy Exams, Leslie Jamison mentions a phrase a boyfriend once used to characterize her—a phrase by which, some years later, she still finds herself troubled. This phrase is “wound dweller. ..
The essay becomes an exploration of the idea of empathy, of feeling your way into the suffering of another person and identifying personally with their pain...
Instead she asks, in various ways, whether empathy might not in fact be less about the person being identified with than the person doing the identifying...
Recently, researchers examined empathy in males and females under stressful conditions. When the men were stressed, they were less able to engage in socially appropriate and empathetic interactions with other people; men became more egocentric when stressed. Women, on the other hand, were more empathetic toward others when they themselves were under stress.
For the study, which is published in the journal Psychoneuroendocrinology, the participants were placed in moderately stressful situations in a laboratory, including speaking in public with little preparation or performing mental arithmetic tasks, that mimicked the type of stress humans can encounter on a daily basis.