Saturday, February 18, 2012

Empathy

Empathy. Its something people have spoken about often enough, especially at the d.school. Hmm. So where do I exist? I was unsure, and I still am. Sometimes I connect with people, but I am still unsure if I empathize with them completely; do I feel their pain, their joys, their worries, their anxieties?

PHI and HIPPA prohibit me from sharing any information on the patients I meet and any procedures I observe, so I won't get into any details. But two cases in the past two weeks left a deep impact one me. One was someone really sick and very young girl (I call her Snow White, like sleeping beauty) who had a procedure done on her in the ICU; the other one was an old old woman (I call her San Francisco, for her fantastic stories from the city) who I met in the out-patient clinic and was completely blown away by her effervescence and beauty.

I was extremely uncomfortable with Snow White, afraid that something might just go wrong, she looked so unwell and frail. I really wanted to help, and knew that I possibly couldn't. I wonder if prayers help you connect with people (Julian, are you listening?)! I have tried this earlier as well (connecting with people through my thoughts), and have never been so sure about its efficacy. Maybe it works. Maybe.

Things were just the opposite with San Francisco, she was so full of joy and energy. I laughed when she did, smiled when she did. It was almost as if I was mirroring her expressions, without really being actually aware of it. It was fantastic to be with her, she made me happy as well.

I have been told often that women are way better than men with empathy. I wish there was a woman with me in these settings, and we could have discussed this later on. I wanted another opinion.

But I am still unsure if I empathized with them, I did connect with them both though. Sure.
Food for thought.

21 comments:

  1. Hi Siddhartha, I emapthize with your connundrum.

    I am a designer who recently finished a 3 year long research into the relationship between design and empathy ( http://realizingempathy.com/ ). Here's one of the video I have put up online that you might find interesting.

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=E15sYx-cpso

    I don't know that we can ever empathize with someone 100%. Making it our goal to want to empathize with someone 100% may be a worthy one, but in most contexts, you don't need to know exactly what the other person is sensing, you just need to know "enough" for the purpose that you need to share that thought/emotion/feeling, etc... This notion of "Satisficing" becomes quite important here, I think.

    What I consider more important than whether we "know" or not is whether there is an opportunity for one person to engage in a conversation with the other person so that one can get to "know enough".

    Conversation is an extremely important device for people to get to a point where they share "enough"

    In my research, I propose that we get to point where there is a mutual exchange of honesty, where both feel a sense of profound resonance.

    Here, there's no proof that you have empathized, but the profound sense of resonance is an indication that there was sufficient amount of empathizing that just occurred for the context. And the other will feel that they've been empathized with, and you'll feel that you have empathized. A profound change happens in both parties. And of course, this act of empathizing can happen more through time as necessary if more is needed.

    I think what's also important is the drive to want to empathize, to not give up, as long as the conscious effort to reach that goal is there, and when everyone is after this simple goal, all these wonderful things like creativity, innovation, collaboration, and transformation emerge as a side effect. And this will motivate us to keep trying.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thanks a lot for the wonderful reply Seung (I hope I got your name correct). I really appreciate the fact that you took so much time to give such a detailed response...

      I guess I agree with you that 100% empathy isn't possible, and maybe not even necessary. Empathizing enough seems more plausible...

      Saw the video, and its really good. I will surely follow your research more closely and will try to learn from it. Empathy is an area I am also keenly interested in as I believe that its impact is profound...

      You can also mail me at connect(at)siddharthajoshi(dot)com

      Delete
  2. Does that make you feel guilty?

    Your empathy doesn't make it any better for them but it certainly makes things worse for you.

    Unable to get rid of that dull ache in your heart, the anger that makes your head throb...it's not a pleasant feeling.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. But Purba it would or should make it better, the whole idea of empathy in design is to connect with ur user and get to know them, so that ur design reflects their unsaid requirements and so on...

      I am not really unhappy, but in a state where I realize how important it is to empathize, even if I am not designing and just chatting with a friend/ family...

      Delete
  3. I wish I could answer this question. please tell me the day you get an answer to this question. Enlighten me.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Haha...sure I will, am not sure of the answer but I hope am at least on a path which leads me somewhere...

      Delete
  4. May I suggest a further resource to learn more about empathy and compassion.
    The Center for Building a Culture of Empathy
    The Culture of Empathy website is the largest internet portal for resources and information about the values of empathy and compassion. It contains articles, conferences, definitions, experts, history, interviews,  videos, science and much more about empathy and compassion.
    http://CultureOfEmpathy.com

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Wow...this portal looks full of some very interesting resources, I really like it. Thanks a lot Edwin...I really appreciate it.

      Delete
  5. I am not sure if women are better at empathy...but men are definitely better at feeling certain things that women pass by...connecting with people with just thoughts would be a very difficult task-that's when words come handy...

    Empathy and expressing it might bring a little less restlessness to your wondering mind:-)

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. :) I guess you are right, and men and women make a great balance with emotions...

      Delete
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    ReplyDelete
  7. Women are more better at expressing themselves as compared to men, they don't feel vulnerable expressing themselves ....

    It definitely creates an intense burden when you have to be with total strangers , listen to their problems, assess , formulate nad help them through it ... but kudos for being brave enough and going through the entire process. I , gave up, on the same :)

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. :) I am not quite sure if I am brave, but I am certainly very keen. Often I can detach myself, and that surely helps...

      What did you give up? Empathy or learning to use it for design/ something else?

      Delete
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  9. Hi Siddharth,

    Nice post and good conversation in the comment as well.. good to know different point of views hereby..

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I agree, the discussion thread is way more interesting than the post itself...

      Delete
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