What is empathy?

Here is my first and favourite description of empathy,  from some people who studied it in post-conflict situations like the former Yugoslavia and South Africa:

“The work of empathy is precisely trying to imagine a view of the world that one does not share, and in fact may find it quite difficult to share.”

Halpern & Weinstein, 2004, p. 581

Key ingredients of empathy:

  • Self and Other (given capitals to indicate they stand for individuals or groups)
  • Differences between Self and Other (I use the term ‘alterity’ to cover all types of otherness-es)
  • Imagining the world of the Other (happens automatically or more consciously)
  • Possible problems with dealing with the consequences of imagining the world of the Other
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