Deliberative empathy – the phrase that captures what I’m after

Empathy is about both emotions and reasoning, but for most people relates to the emotions – feeling compassion, for example. I’m interested in how far we can influence empathy through choices and intentions. In the first work I did on this, I studied the talk of Jo Berry, whose father was killed by an IRA bomb, and Pat Magee, who planted the  bomb. She set out “to bring something positive out of” the tragic death of her father, and empathy was a key part of what she did/had. Meeting Pat Magee, she tried to see him as a complex human being and to find out why he did such a terrible thing, what drove him, and thus how further killing might be prevented in future. She did this through talking — deliberation — but also with a conscious intent and having made (and re-made) a moral choice.

The term ‘deliberative empathy’ is designed to encompass all this — talking with the Other having made a moral choice to try to understand across the difference, and across the problems that may be caused by that difference.

When I tried the phrase out with an experienced mediator in conflict situations, she decided it worked because it took empathy beyond being about “the heart” to being also a matter of rational choice.

As the last year of my project gets under way, the focus narrows to deliberative empathy and how to make it work for a better society.

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  1. […] inter-community violence, people are finding alternatives to revenge. Although my core interest is language and dialogue, it was obvious that here it is action that matters. Bringing people together to build a road that […]



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