01 Aug

What Empathy Means to Me

I’m currently attending the SVA Interaction Design Summer Intensive.  This was my first assignment for my Research Methods Class, given by Jodi Leo.

From the early stages of my life and throughout my college and working career empathy has shaped my thinking in numerous ways.  Empathy has shaped my thinking in ways that have allowed me to influence people, and gain a better understanding when interacting with others in business and in life in general.

I first became aware of how empathy can affect my thinking during the early years of my life. One day when I was high school I suddenly became aware that when I would smile at a person, in most cases I would receive a smile back. This struck me as a great phenomenon. I was able to manipulate people and cause them to smile simply by expressing a small amount joy in their presence. After a couple days of focusing on maintaining a happy face as much as I could I found that people seemed to like me and show me favoritism.   I concluded that the reason people were attracted to me was because everyone in this world seeks happiness and the feelings of being content; therefore all humans are naturally going to try and associate themselves with people who express those feelings of happiness.  From that day forward I always tried to introduce myself with a smile and always put an effort into putting on the face of a happy man. By seeing the direct effects of my smile I began a mental journey in search of other ways that I can influence people.

Later on in my life I realized how empathy extends to all aspects of business and lifestyle.  During college I learned about Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs, which state that one of the main necessities of humans is the need to feel a sense of belonging and acceptance.  I also learned about social proof, one of the weapons of persuasion, which is when a person strives to follow the behavior of other people in their direct surroundings. Additionally, I learned in business management that it is very important for mangers to show empathy to their employees. Often mangers will be faced by one of their worker with a complaint that can’t be fixed right away or not at all. It is imperative for managers to express empathy to their worker in order to gain their trust and their approval.

As far as lifestyle is concerned, with the development of social networks I believe empathy had turned into something that is more quantitative then qualitative. What I mean by that is the following; I was to broadcast to my group of friends that “I just broke up with my girl friend”, I will receive a large amount of empathy from my online social network. They might comment on new relationship status showing their support or if I’m lucky they might send me a personal message. But on the other hand, it is doubtful that all of those friends will give me a phone call or come to my house and give me quality support.   With the development of social networks I believe people have dramatically increased their reach and number of so called “friends”. A person’s relationship with their friends can easy get diluted, simply because social networks give a person the ability to have many friends, which means many people to give attention to. Although this shift from qualitative to quantitative has its pro and cons, I would agree in a global disaster such as the earthquake in Haiti that the human race, especially those on social networks, can easily empathized with the victims. It was because of the quantitative support that Haiti received aid and support from around the world.

Empathy has shaped my thinking in many different ways.  By taking into account the feelings of other people I have been able to influence others, and learn how to respond to different life scenarios. If not for my knowledge of empathy I would not be where I am today, in terms of my career and life goals.

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Elie Orgel