Fishing For Frogs, 1882. Oil on canvas painting by William Adolphe Bouguereau

A Marketing Reminder: Identification and Empathy

I saw this lovely short article on LinkedIn today by Sarah Nadava about Sheryl Sandberg, Chief Operating Officer of Facebook.  Navigating the world of single motherhood,  Sandberg had some important realizations:

“But, to be fair- people are only generally good at understanding the world that they know and live in. They fight for the problems that they can see. And sometimes, people need to go through a struggle in order to really get it” (Sandberg as cited by Nadava).

As Nadav points out, for Sandberg, she could not empathize with the plight of single mothers and single motherhood and tell she was in the thick of it.

But for me, the takeaway is not necessarily about single motherhood, which is important, but about empathy. Our society is lacking a propensity toward empathy, and the fact that we can only recognize an issue when we are in the middle of it symbolizes a larger problem.

I see this missing empathy gene a great deal not only when I teach ethics (oh why can’t we teach ethics and philosophy in “K – 12” grades ??), but also when I am working with digitalSnip20160514_3 media marketing. The key for many of us in the business is to find a way to get our audiences to empathize with our point of view. We are seeking identification, as Kenneth Burke so brilliantly argued. As digital marketers, social media strategists, and content creators, we are not only looking to persuade people to buy this, or to join this gym but empathize with our point of view, to identify with what we have to offer. This identification requires the nurturing of empathy.

So this question is this: how can we better encourage and reintroduce empathy into the populace?

2 thoughts on “A Marketing Reminder: Identification and Empathy”

  1. Dear Rebecca,

    Thank you for passionately sharing your observations around empathic understanding in our culture and amongst the whole of team-humanity!

    Between your travels to Ireland, the current political climate in the US and your empathic immersion into single mom’s, I found myself hopeful, frustrated & optimistic around the role of empathy in our world.

    As an American of African-Ancestry who grew up on both sides of privilege (academically/athletically and then on the other side ethnically) my natural propensity was to contemplate life empathically. I was the one (in our 100 person fraternity where 99 were Americans of Caucasian-Ancestry) who my brothers would come to asking Q’s about folks who’s shade of brown wasn’t as light as theirs😎

    My psychology degree from Ucla and my empathy training in India with the Gandhi family (not to mention playing pro ball) led me to NVC and the discovery that empathy was more than swapping shoes. I treated empathy practice like batting practice, working on the fundamentals everyday and freestyling new ideas (like you don’t need to feel someone’s pain to empathize with it, thus allowing you to give of yourself joyfully vs exhausted & in peril emotionally). That distinction between emotional empathy & mindful empathy (philosophy) gave birth to verbal empathy (strategy) and voila I became an empathic communication coach🙏

    Thanks for being the change you wish to see in the world Rebecca! LMK how the Empathy Institute can support your vision for the planet?

    Tony ‘The Empathy Guy’ Scruggs “Together We Rise, Together We FLY”


    1. Tony, Mahalo for stopping by and reading. I am glad to find another soul helping to infuse the world with empathy. It is one of my core beliefs, the use of and understanding of empathy can literally change the world and I love that you teach this. I find in general that empathy and the nurturing of mindful and emotional empathy is very difficult for those of us who live in individualistic cultures, a bit easier for those who come from more collectivist cultures. I try to teach the use of empathy when I teach my communication courses but it is a long road for Americans, generally.

      Let’s talk more.
      Mahalo again for stopping by.


      Liked by 1 person

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s