The challenge of empathy: Blocking and lumping

Empathy is stopped by the barriers we put in place between us and other people. Empathy is stopped when we don’t see other people as individuals but as a group, lumped together.

We are social beings and need the pleasures, comfort, and security of being in a group. The problem comes when we define ourselves by who we exclude from our group, and see ‘them’ as all the same, different from ‘us’.

When other people are lumped into a group, damaging stories can be told. Individuals disappear inside the group and violence becomes more likely.

The challenge is to remove blocks and see people as individuals not lumped into a group we can dismiss.

Questions to ask:

When I encounter this person, do I see them as an individual or just as part of a group?
What does ‘my group’ believe about ‘their group’? What stories do we tell about them?
How much truth is there in those beliefs and stories?
How do those beliefs and stories make me feel?
Is that how I want to feel?
What can I do to change it?

Ways forward:

Find scraps of truth and real life.
Find the gaps in what we know and be curious.
Understand about the other as a person, as a woman or man, as a parent, as a son or daughter.

Listen to other stories they have to tell.

Acknowledge troubles and struggles – our own and theirs.


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