Empathy: It’s Not You, It’s Me

The English word “empathy” — a word similar to, yet distinct from, the word “sympathy” — was coined by E.B. Titchener in 1909 as the translation of the German term “Einfühlung” (or “feeling into”). How did such a fundamental human emotion elude the English language for so long?

Often, we see or hear what we construct in our minds, rather than what is actually before us. Our perceptions of others’ emotions may operate similarly. Empathy forms a cornerstone of intellectual movements such as Design Thinking and Social Emotional Learning, which suggests that thought leaders have found that humans can improve the ways in which they get in touch with the emotions of others. Conversational tools (such as “what I heard you say is”) augment empathy by enabling the listener to tune into the intended message of the speaker, as well as enabling the speaker to tune into how the listener may feel. Similarly, replacing statements such as “you excluded me” with “I felt excluded” enables conversationalists to calibrate their perceptions of each other’s emotions.
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