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An Outline of Big Empathy

See also Empathy.

This is in no way a comprehensive list of the elements of Big Empathy. Rather it is an invitational brainstorm for inspire development of this revolutionary concept.


Empathy means truly BEING WITH someone or something.

GROUNDING IN REGULAR EMPATHY - the ability to understand and share the feeling of those close to you - related to you or present in your word.

DEEPENING EMPATHY into an ongoing practice of greater - indeed, universal - connection, transcending othering and shoulding. Resonating with the life energy in oneself and those around one - the needs, values, aspirations, longings, passions, ways of seeing the world and responding to it. Replacing judgment (concern with right and wrong) with curiosity, connection, and discernment of their/its gifts and limitations, and where they/it fit and could fit within the situation or the larger realm of life.


Who qualifies for my/our empathy? Who is Other? How full is my/our empathy?

Expanding empathy to cover more beings distant in time, space, context, species, etc. - including past and future generations, the children of all living things for all time. Practicing multiple viewpoint awareness and reflective listening (a la DF's "designated listener"). Expand your empathy to understand the contexts that generated or could have generated the way someone or something is being, which is a major part of their story. (Thich Nhat Hanh boat pirate story.)

A. Transcending disconnection and alienation ("All my relations" vs "It doesn't have to do with me")
1. Denial, both individual and collective
2. Distance in space: It's too far away to affect me.
3. Distance in time: past and future
4. Invisibility: Small, vast, systemic
5. Us-ness: beyond self, family, and tribe
6. Homo Sapiens - other animals, from mammals to trees and weds and microbes
7. Individuality - groups, communities, nations, systems, natural systems and Gaia ("Missing the forest for the trees"; "There's no such thing as society" Margaret Thatcher)
WE NEED to reach out, to seek, to pay attention - and to be part of communities that do this.

B. Empathizing with more of the whole person and their whole experience, not just with their suffering. (With which facets of a person and their experiencing are we empathizing?)
1. their experience
2. their emotions - the full range, including excitement, boredom, anger, etc.
3. their thinking, beliefs, values, narratives
4. their bodily state
5. their needs and longings
6. their spiritual condition

C. DEVELOPING SITUATIONAL EMPATHY to feel into all the entities involved in a situation and into the situation itself, often its tragicomic nature, to be an open-hearted, open-minded witness to that, and able to articulate it to invite others into Rumi's field.

D. Expanding the extent and complexity of my/our empathic response
1. Feeling resonance
2. Care about
3. Send a positive wish or prayer
4. Giving an opportunity to express themselves
5. Listening, especially so they feel heard
6. Understanding so they feel understood
7. Entering their experience so they feel companioned
8. Action for their well-being, mutual aid, shared aspiration

1. Aesthetic discernment
2. Aesthetic resonance
3. Sensing into one's aesthetic emotional response
4. Enrichment of one's experience
5. Ego-transcendence


How do we enhance our empathic capacities?

A. Practices
1. Reflective listening (DF, NVC)
2. Fishbowl
3. Social interactions with the other/others
4. Circle - speaking from the heart/the heart of the whole
5. Diversity & privilege work
6. Consensus - addressing concerns
7. Nonviolence
8. Commons Cafe
9. Meditative exercises in being present and in the present moment
10. Disciplined attention to the aesthetics of our surroundings

B. Perspectives/Attitudes (Holistic worldview, Rumi's field)
1. Gifts and limitations and where it its
2. Appreciation, gratitude, love, tolerance, generosity
3. Golden Rule
4. Interconnectedness - system thinking, shamanism
5. Polarity management
6. Evolutionary/Developmental perspectives
7. Seek common ground and life energy - needs, interests, aspirations

C. Immersive experience/exercises
1. Prison, homeless, hungry
2. Serving the Other
3. Multiple-viewpoint drama
4. Time in nature, especially wilderness
5. Field trips to degradation
6. Study
7. Fiction, story (Uncle Tom's Cabin)
8. Psychedelic awareness expansion

D. Sustaining empathy (compassion fatigue, overwhelm)
1. Self-empathy and self-care
2. Humble limits
3. Mutual support
4. Humor
5. Spiritual practice
6. Therapy

E. DEVELOPING WHOLE SYSTEM EMPATHY to understand how the joyful and painful phenomena in life are generated by the way things are set up, the way the parts of a situation interact, the way the context shapes how everyone and everything thinks, feels, and behaves.


How can our cultures and social systems use, enhance, and embody empathy?

EMBEDDING EMPATHY IN SYSTEMS AND CULTURES so that they use empathy, embody empathy, and further the goals of empathy, that is, they produce the outcomes that empathy exists to produce, such as deeper understanding, resonant relationship, mutual benefit, reduced harm, and outcomes that meet the needs of all involved. Institutionalize empathic conversations with restorative justice replacing or reducing imprisonment and dialogue and deliberation replacing or reducing adversarial forms of democracy. In economics, internalize the social and environmental costs of products into their prices so that benign products are generally cheaper than harmful ones, resulting in a life-serving free market, and support cooperatives and the gifting and sharing economy outside of the money economy. Give regular validation and awards for empathic service to the common good, including the creation of stories, movies, performances that expand people's empathy in 1-5 above. Develop more in-person interactive venues online (e.g., video and chat, contrasted with blog comments and Facebook messages) and browsing and searching technologies that introduce people to others outside of their usual circles. Use positive deviance to tap into existing bonds to further needed transformation. Support both bonding and bridging capital. Open Space, World Cafe, Future Search, Fishbowl, Choice-creating, etc.

A. Politics and governance
1. Random Selection
2. Citizen deliberative councils
3. Community Wisdom Councils
4. Self-organization - Open Space, subsidiarity
5. Fairness principle: Are you willing to trade places with those most disadvantaged by what you propose?
6. Accessing more of the whole = wisdom
7. Transpartisanship
8. Freedom
9. Equitable opportunity and treatment
10. Nonviolence, listening projects

B. Economics
1. Gifting and sharing economy; mutual aid
2. Sustainability
3. Internalize the costs
4. Local economics
5. Cooperatives
6. Avoid extreme wealth disparity
7. Address real needs rather than creating wants

C. Community
1. Social Capital (bridging) - events, process, story
2. Intentional community
3. Design space for interactions and conversations
4. Crowdfunding

D. Justice
1. Restorative circles

E. Culture
1. Celebrate diversity
2. Holistic worldview
3. Upworthy videos
4. Counter isolation/perspective-limitation of customized internet
5. Safe contexts for expression of emotion and intimacy (reduce the social disadvantages of these)
6. Reduce competitiveness that makes it unsafe to empathize

F. Education
1. Multicultural, multidisciplinary, multiracial, etc.
2. Conversations amongst differences
3. Teach empathic practices
4. DEVELOPING EVERYONE'S EMPATHY - of all of the previous types - by example, education, games, stories, media, networks, communities of practice, whatever helps more people develop these empathic capacities. See and Anna Deavere Smith's multiple viewpoint drama and the use of soap operas to reduce spousal abuse.

G. Science
1. Precautionary principle
2. Indigenous/living systems sciences (ecology, permaculture)
3. Sustainable technologies



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