Empathy News Round-Up: Empathy in Design & Entrepreneurship, Tips When Your Child is the Bully, and the Perils of Politics

Submitted on Mon, April 9, 2012

It was a busy week in Empathy Land (appreciate the understanding, oh empathetic reader), but don't fret! Missed the latest news in empathy last week? We've got you covered. 

Empathize Like A Doctor, Design Like An Entrepreneur (James Oliver Senior & John Dole, FastCo.Exist, April 2, 2012)

When was the last time your doctor prescribed you an app to download, rather than a pill to swallow? The reason for the apparent disconnect between the millions in venture capital and consumer spending on health-related apps, and the traditional healthcare system (not to mention actual health outcomes) is simple, write James Oliver Senior and John Dole of Minnesota’s famed Mayo Clinic. Most tech entrepreneurs and those in the app-building business disdain the healthcare industry they’re out to transform, and too rarely stop to ask hard questions of doctors and patients to find out the real cause behind an apparent health problem, they say. <blockquote>“Many health care startups are attempting to apply their technologies to complex medical conditions without having involved physicians or patients during the design process.”</blockquote>

Senior and Dole’s solution is to “empathize like a doctor,” whose success depends not just on expert knowledge of the anatomy and disease, but on their ability to listen, and to build a trusting doctor-patient relationship. Given the widespread evidence that many doctors likewise lack empathy, however, we’re not sure that’s enough. Genuine systems-changing social entrepreneurs place human-centered design at the forefront of everything they do: solutions are made not for a population, but with them, and often by them. Our recommendation? Design like that kind of entrepreneur. 


Bullying: What to do when your child is the perpetrator, not the victim (Sue McAllister, San Jose Mercury News, March 31, 2012)

With the release of the new documentary, Bully, bullying is on many minds, from parents and children, to celebrities of every age and style (full disclosure: we’re partnering with the team behind the film on a social action campaign for students.) Here, Sue McAllister examines what parents can do when they suspect their child is the bully. The key? “[T]o foster empathy in them, because people don't mistreat those with whom they empathize,” writes McAllister, quoting Raising Happiness author Christine Carter of the Greater Good Science Center. Dr. Carter recommends “instilling empathy is to help children understand their own emotions, including giving them vocabulary for describing their feelings,” writes McAllister. “So if a child has been aggressive to a friend, a parent can say, ‘Wow, you must have really been hurting to do something like that,’ [Carter] suggests, or ‘jealous’ or ‘frustrated,’ etc.” It’s important to let the child label the emotion, and to understand “that feeling bad is OK, but that mistreatment of a friend is not.”  Got an idea to put empathy to practice? We want to hear about! Head over to thebullyproject.startempathy.org to learn more about what you can do to stop bullying before it starts.


More evidence of how politics gets in the way of empathy (Susan Perry, Minnesota Post, April 4, 2012)

“[P]olitical differences appear to override even our strong innate human desire to project our visceral feelings onto those around us,” writes Susan Perry, reporting on a new study from the University of Michigan suggesting people have less empathy for those of a different political background. Okay, fine: one look at our current state of political entrenchment is probably enough to tell you that. But while we may not naturally empathize with people of differing political stripes, we can certainly learn to do so. There are literally dozens of Ashoka Fellows who’ve tapped into powerful mechanisms to cultivate empathy among rival political groups, across religious lines, and in conflict-ridden environments: organizations like Search for Common Ground, Interfaith Youth Core, Nigeria's Interfaith Mediation Centre, founded by Fellows Mohammed Ashafa and James Wuye--you get the picture. So if the thought of that next holiday dinner next to Uncle Owen seems to squelch every empathic fiber in your body, don't despair: civility, peaceful communication, and dare we say, understanding, are entirely within your grasp.