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Embodying Empathy

The funny thing about empathy is that everyone thinks they have it, and yet so few people show it.

Empathy is defined as the ability to understand and share the feelings of another. But it’s not enough to understand, we have to act. Understanding happens in the mind. Action happens in the body.

To care is to feel, to recognize the importance; it’s an internal emotional state. But to take care is an external performance; it is a behavior. Only when it is observable and experienced by others does it have impact.

Feeling empathy is necessary, but it is not sufficient. It must be perceptible. We must express it, perform it. To embody empathy is to quite literally give our body to it. To allow it to fill us completely.

When we embody something, it becomes tangible and we become a symbol of it. It is no longer something to turn on or off, something to choose to pay attention to inside of us. It is us.

Embodying empathy is the act of giving ourselves to others. In every exchange, every meeting, every decision, being constantly filled with the awareness of others’ needs. They do not diminish our own, but they slowly integrate with our own. We can then act on the other’s behalf as a true proxy.

That is the job of a designer: to be a proxy for the intended audience. Just as the job of a manager is to be a proxy for his staff. And the job of a leader is to be a proxy for her community.

It’s not enough to feel the feelings of another; we have to represent them.

So are you just experiencing empathy, or are others experiencing the effects of it?

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