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The Energizer Blog

  • Writer's pictureEileen McDargh

Is Empathy Dying?

Girl on the phone at cafe

Pick up a paper, turn on the news, or glance at your smart phone. You’ll be flooded with all manner of stories filled with anger, hate, disparaging remarks, and cruelty.

It makes me feel sick. This is NOT the world I want to inhabit nor the way I wish to live.

I have a sense that you might feel the same. It’s why we are connected—we have an empathetic bond probably based on our conversations, my work with you and your organization, or that you resonated with some of my books.

Sadly, I’m concerned that empathy might be dying. A study at the University of Michigan found that empathetic skills in college students have declined by as much as 48% over the last 8 years!!!  

Empathy is Uniquely Human

A number of factors contribute to this decline. But there are two which really stand out:

  • Smart phones are taking the place of in-person communication.

  • Virtual meetings and remote work have replaced physical interaction.

Think about it. How many times have you walked into a restaurant and found everyone looking at their phones instead of talking to each other? 

On a virtual call, how many people do not turn on their videos and all you see is a name?

“Empathy is uniquely human. It cannot be mastered without face-to-face conversations.” Dr. Sherry Turkle, Reclaiming Conversation. 

Develop Empathy and Understand

Here are some ideas to develop empathy and understanding—in your team, your family, and yes—your neighborhood.

  • Schedule weekly meetings with informal, non-organizational discussions. Items can be: “my bravest moment”, “my dream vacation and why “, “If I could only…”. 

  • At home, make the dining table a no-phone zone. Same with bedtime. Model putting the phone away (on top of refrigerator, perhaps?)

  • Create special events that are not related to work: an informal BBQ, board games, a trivia contest or a cooking class.

To become more empathic, make these commitments:

  • Listen deeply to others’ stories.

  • Ask thoughtful, reflective questions.

  • Seek to understand rather than be understood.

  • Find what you have in common. 

One last thought: Greet a stranger. Notice something about them. Pet their dog (with permission). Smile.  I’m amazed at the positive reactions.

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