The Power of Empathy: A Quick Animated Lesson That Can Make You a Better Person

Several years back, the RSA (Royal Society of the Arts) created a series of distinctive animated shorts where heavy-hitter intellectuals presented big ideas, and a talented artist rapidly illustrated them on a whiteboard. Some of those talks featured the likes of Slavoj Zizek, Steven Pinker and Barbara Ehrenreich. Now RSA presents a new video series created in an entirely different aesthetic. Above, you can watch what will hopefully be the first of many “espresso shots for the mind.” This clip features Dr. Brené Brown, a research professor at the University of Houston Graduate College of Social Work, providing some quick insights into the difference between sympathy and empathy, and explaining why empathy is much more meaningful. To learn more about The Power of Empathy, you can watch Brown’s complete RSA lecture here. You can also watch her very popular TED Talk on The Power of Vulnerability here.

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Comments (10)
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  • Cj says:

    The problem with this cartoon is that it diminishes the value of sympathy. In fact, I believe the definitions used are actually faulty. Moreover, empathy is not appropriate in all social contexts. This cartoon suggests empathy is valuable in all contexts, which is not at all the case.

    • crazymom7777 says:

      I agree! Sympathy has its place. Sympathy is what you give when you truly cannot empathize because you have never been in the same situation as the person you are trying to comfort! For someone like myself, who has never been depressed, to give the suggested, “I know what it’s like down there” (in the dark hole) would be patronizing. I DON”T KNOW what it’s like!!!!nThe speaker’s suggestion at the end, “I don’t even know what to say right now, I’m just so glad you shared this with me” — that’s not empathy! That’s not putting yourself in the person’s place. Rather it is showing caring and support without knowing exactly how the person feels…. um…. isn’t that sympathy?

  • Ingrid Fonta Muki says:

    I think its awesome!

  • AntonioNeal says:

    This video is a real eye opener, as so many people feel they are caring because they show sympathy, yet by showing sympathy they are really not saying that they do not care so much because they are willing to try to understand another person’s position, but they are not willing to make the connection to feel what it is the other person is truly feeling. This just shows another disconnect that people have created with their surroundings.

  • MGR says:

    In order to have empathy with someone you really need to care about this person. We have all suffered one way or another in our lives. That’s enough. You can use this experience to connect. If you wish to. If you care.

  • IK says:

    Silver lining can be put in other words too, you don’t need to say ‘At least…’ Personally, I prefer when friends offer me an optimistic perspective than when they try to understand and connect.

  • CH says:

    These comments are really interesting. While the video offers a nice perspective and certainly opens up the discussion, I find myself agreeing with crazymom’s comment.

  • Alok Mittal says:

    Educative; Trying to learn how to be more emphaticall then sympathatical

  • Mary Phillips says:

    Would appreciate advise on best colleges or universities in US for young man interested in becoming a writer. Thank you

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Open Culture was founded by Dan Colman.