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 digital 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?