Psychology of Social Connection

The Case for Empathy

March 4th, 2022 · 19 Comments

This week, we read about psychologist Paul Bloom’s argument Against Empathy in moral reasoning because it’s biased towards people like us. Though he made many good points, we still believe there are many situations where empathy is essential. In the following blog post, we’ll explore how empathy enables us to effectively help friends struggling with depression (or just had a bad day) and to stand up to bullies and we’ll finish with a call for more empathy in everyday circumstances.

[Summer]
Case 1: How to Save a Life?

“How to Save a Life” by The Frayer is the band’s biggest hit so far. First popularized by medical dramas like Gray’s Anatomy, it saw a resurgence on Tiktok in the ongoing pandemic.

Since its release in 2006, it has moved millions of people (myself included) to tears as we empathize with its poignant and emotional lyrics and literally feel the frustration, despair, guilt, sadness etc. along with the singer.

This song always reminds me of my experience trying to help a friend who struggled with depression. Often, I find it hard to get through to my friend, to slip past their defense and often ask myself: “Where did I go wrong?” “How to save a life?”

After reading this week’s reading, I’ve started to think that one possible answer to this question is the secret to this song’s popularity – Empathy.

Psychologists identified three central components of empathy:
1. Mind Perception: the ability to identify another person’s mind and to know it’s different from our own
2. Mentalizing: the ability to understand others’ emotions, beliefs and intentions; taking their perspective
3. Emotion Sharing: the ability to feel the emotions others feel

(Da Waal 2008; Zaki, 2014)

With this framework, I noticed for a song that evokes so much empathy, how unempathetic the singer’s response is. Though he acknowledges that “he” has a mind different from his own, he doesn’t seem to mentalize with “him”. Throughout the song, he speaks in a strikingly rational and detached manner: “Let him know that you know best”, “Lay down a list of what is wrong”, “grant him one last choice”. Furthermore, the strong emotions in “What did I do wrong?” and “How to save a life?” mostly come from the singer’s perspective and are not shared by “him”. The singer doesn’t explicitly acknowledge the sadness, confusion, anger etc. “he” must feel. His “polite” manner seems almost unintentionally dehumanizing to me.

In the 2016 paper, Castro and Zautra explained that people often learn patterns of relating to others through imitation of role models. Thus, if the singer addresses “him” in a “dehumanizing” manner, “he” is more likely to reflect this dehumanizing view and be distrustful. On the other hand, they found that if people learn to “humanize” others as people with goals and emotions, they will perceive more “choice” in their actions, be more intentional with their social interactions, become more able to maintain healthy and meaningful relationships and be more resilient when facing challenging negative emotions (Castro & Zautra, 2016).

Perhaps if instead of analyzing the problem and telling the boy what to do, the singer had provided an empathetic response and had connected with “him” on an emotional level, he would have more easily slipped past “his” defenses to help “him” find “his” own solution and motivation to make a change. And maybe this way, he could have saved a life.

Of course, in many situations, empathy alone is not enough to save a life, but I believe it’s always a good start.

[Lake]
Case 2: How to Stand Up to a Bully?

Empathy not only enables us to provide emotional support but also prompts us to stand up for a friend in need.

Let’s travel back in time to elementary school when I first remember empathy being prominent in me. I was on my daily school bus ride home from school, however, this time our schools’ bully started acting out. He was a 5th grader and we were 3rd graders, the perfect case for him to pick on someone he felt power over. He first moved into the seat across from me where a schoolmate was sitting and started to harass him. Sitting there and listening to this, I began to put myself in his shoes and try to understand how I would be feeling if I was getting bullied – which I’ve experienced as the new kid. Following the verbal assault, he (the bully) slapped my classmate across the face. Instinctively, I stood up to help, to which the bully asked the infamous “what are you going to do about it?”. So, I punched him straight in the nose.
According to De Waal’s thesis, “empathy evolved in animals as the main proximate mechanism for directed altruism.” (De Waal, F.B., 2008). My act- punching the bully in the face, is a prime example of altruism: the desire to help another person without self-interest, even if it involves a cost to the helper. I punched the bully knowing that I would get in trouble (I did until my principal decided not to punish me after hearing the full story). At the time of the event, it was instinctive. The thought of getting in trouble did not cross my mind, since I was only thinking about helping my schoolmate.

It was this experience, feeling what it felt like to help my classmate in this horrible situation, that made me consciously try to understand or feel what another person is experiencing from within their frame of reference, that is, placing oneself in another’s position. I credit this empathetic act to my parents; they are beyond supportive and made me feel secure. There is no doubt that strong relationship between a child and their parents gives the child greater empathy for their peers. My parents have the greatest sense of empathy toward me. The study from Hepach et al., (2012) found that the intrinsic motivation for young children’s (2 years old) helping behavior does not require that they perform the behavior themselves and thus “get credit” for it, but rather requires only that the other person is helped. Thus, young children are intrinsically motivated to see others helped. My parents are very empathetic and have always had a desire to help, constantly doing things to give back in any way. From Hepach et al., (2012), seeing my parents helping others when I was a young child without a doubt played a role in my empathetic values/nature.

[Michael]
Case 3: How to Make Someone’s Day?

Summer wrote of helping a friend with depression, and Lake of standing up to a bully. These are important situations that greatly require us to act with empathy. Such important situations, in fact, that we’ll likely feel guilty about the situation after if we do not help. We know these situations call for our aid, and it’s the moral thing to do.

But what about more casual situations? Those everyday situations in which we walk past CVS and know we could make a friend’s day if we bought them a little card for $2, but we don’t. Or when we know we could see our parents light up with happiness if we just FaceTimed them for 10 minutes, but we don’t. Or we could give that homeless person $5 and allow them to have a hot drink in the winter, but we don’t. You get the picture.

Many of us don’t do these little acts of empathy, even though they ask very little of us, and we know they would really make someone’s day. My part of this blog is aimed at convincing you to do them more often.

We’ll start with empirical research. Whillans et al. (2016) found that spending money on others improves cardiovascular health. As in, buying someone a small gift not only makes their day but also improves your heart health. So, every day when you walk past CVS and don’t buy your friend those on-sale post-Valentine’s Day chocolates, you’re not only missing an opportunity to put a smile on their face, but you’re missing an opportunity to improve your own heart. Doesn’t that make you want to spend the $5 now?

More empirical research, you ask? I’ve got it for you. Dunn et al. (2008) found that spending money on others makes people happier than spending money on themselves. So now you know that completing that little empathetic act not only makes the other person happy, but it’s also going to make you happier than spending that same money on yourself.

While we all want to find ourselves in those rare situations where we act courageously, and save the day, like punching a bully in the face, those situations don’t happen every day. But we can still be empathetic in the situations that happen every day — and oftentimes it might be even harder in these situations to show empathy. Yet, research shows just how beneficial being empathetic in these little moments can improve both our physical and emotional health (and make someone’s day!). So, I hope reading this inspired you to be just a little better friend, or boy/girlfriend, or simply, person. Go buy that Valentine’s Day chocolate while it’s still on-sale.

References
Castro, & Zautra, A. J. (2016). Humanization of Social Relations: Nourishing

Health and Resilience Through Greater Humanity. Journal of Theoretical

and Philosophical Psychology, 36(2), 64–80.

Dunn, E. W., Aknin, L. B., & Norton, M. I. (2008). Spending money on others

promotes happiness. Science, 319(5870), 1687–1688.

Hepach, R., Vaish, A., & Tomasello, M. (2012). Young children are intrinsically

motivated to see others helped. Psychological Science, 23(9), 967–972.

The Fray.(n.d). How to Save a Life (Official Video). (n.d.). Retrieved March 1,

2022, from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cjVQ36NhbMk

Whillans, A. V., Dunn, E. W., Sandstrom, G. M., Dickerson, S. S., & Madden,

K. M. (2016). Is spending money on others good for your heart? Health Psychology, 35(6), 574-583.

Zaki, J. (2014). Empathy: A motivated account. Psychological Bulletin, 140(6),

1608.

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19 responses so far ↓

  • Sierra Agarwal // Mar 4th 2022 at 9:22 pm

    Summer, Lake and Michael, I really enjoyed this blog post! Summer, I resonate with a lot of your points about how songs can evoke empathy and feel certain emotions as if you are one with the singer. Your thoughts about how the singer comes across as polite and how they can be interpreted as dehumanizing made me think about how even if people are acting in a way that they think they are supposed to, it can still come across in a way that is unacceptable to others. On this point, it also made me think about how there is always something more that someone can do, and that they typically reflect on this once it is too late. I do agree that if the singer had done more to resonate with the boy’s emotions, it could have resulted in a better outcome.

    Lake, I am sorry to hear about this experience you went through at such a young age. One question I have for you is that when you were choosing to stand up to the bully, did you ever think he was going to hurt you, too, and that plays a role into why you decided to take part in the situation yourself? I understand that you mention that your actions are an example of altruism and that at the time that is what you believed it to be, but I am curious to hear your thoughts now that the event is in the past.

    Michael, your words made me go out and do a little act of empathy after reading them! This really inspired me to take the time to do something for someone around me and live in the present moment with those nearby. To me, sometimes I think that the small acts of empathy such as calling my parents for a few minutes or asking my roommate if they need anything from CVS while I am going is something that will not make that much of a difference, but they do. I need to be more aware of the times where I can act upon these little acts to make someone else’s day better.

    Great post!

  • Patrick S // Mar 5th 2022 at 10:18 am

    This blog post beautifully laid out all of the benefits that empathy can bring us. Summer, I loved the attention you brought to how we can empathize with musics, but also the disconnect you highlighted between the perceived emotion we feel and the emptiness of the lyrics of “How to Save a Life”. Lake, your post showed that even as children, we show an instinctive inclination towards empathy, and that an empathic mechanism towards altruism can be seen at all ages. Michael, I liked the emphasis you showed on how random acts of kindness can cost us very little, but can give us a much greater return in improving our own well-being. I would love to further examine one of the examples you gave: when given a choice between giving a homeless person $5 or buying a friend a gift with that $5, I wonder what choice we are more inclined to make.

  • Georgia Steigerwald // Mar 5th 2022 at 2:01 pm

    Thanks everyone this was great! I loved the different examples you looked at for when we can or do use empathy. I want to touch on something that Summer and Michael brought up a bit–when we don’t use empathy.

    Summer, you discussed how the singer in “How to Save a Life” seemed slightly dehumanizing of “him” rather than treating him with empathy, and that this could be a critical first step in meaningfully intervening. Why do you think the singer wasn’t empathetic in the first place? Could it be societal norms and pressures or might it be that we sometimes choose not to be empathetic in order to protect ourselves from feeling the deep pain of others.

    Lake–I found your story incredibly compelling as you used empathy to stand up to a bully rather than be a bystander. I was wondering whether you have any insight into the bystander effect and whether you think there is a choice not to empathize from bystanders?

    Michael, I LOVE your point about all the ways we *could* go a little out of our way but do not. My instinct is that perhaps we aren’t empathetic all the time to avoid some amount of empathy burnout (it wouldn’t be sustainable to buy chocolate every time we walked past CVS, and it would feel awful to have to constantly confront that). What do you think?

    Wonderful job again!!

  • Jonathan Yuan // Mar 6th 2022 at 12:19 am

    Summer, Lake, and Michael, thank you for this great blog post!

    Summer, I really liked hearing how you took the lyrics from this iconic song and really dove deep into the lessons we can learn from how it describes dealing with another person’s struggles. I find the importance you place on cause and effect to be really insightful, particularly because the way we treat others has this self-fulfilling prophecy effect sometimes often without our realizing it. The value of empathy in these situations, particularly with the people we really care about, is truly well demonstrated in your words!

    Lake, I really admire the unique context and circumstances of your story. Hearing about that altruism and the importance of thinking through another’s experience to spark action is really interesting to consider. I think your evidence about childrens’ empathy is really interesting too, and I wonder how much empathy is determined by social learning and if unique circumstances when you’re a child have implications on your empathy when you grow up.

    Michael, I think your points are really valuable to think about! I think a lot about how we’re often so lost in our own minds that we cannot think about how we can improve the lives of others around us. I think your argument that it provides a benefit for us too is really interesting. I’m really curious about the mechanisms or ways that manifests. Is it because of our deepened connection, self-confidence and self-worth, or even just feeling happy? I’m also curious about the thresholds for these sensations!

    Thanks so much again for your post!

  • Kara Xie // Mar 6th 2022 at 5:10 pm

    Great blog post! I was really interested in The Fray example of empathy and how music can be a form of reaching a wider audience and empathizing with others, even those who are so different from us. This reminds me of moments where music artists band together to support causes that extend beyond merely creating music. For example, Ariana Grande performed her last song at the Manchester Arena in 2017 and there was a suicide bombing . Obviously, this terrible action startled and disturbed the world. Ariana Grande did a benefit concert and television special to help the victims and families of those affected by the bombing. She had multiple musical guests to pay tribute to the victims. Music is definitely not seen as one of the most direct ways to be empathetic but it is a powerful tool that can open the door to empathizing with those so different from us, especially those in need. I really loved this Fray example discussed in this post and it definitely offers up more food for thought on other artists that also evoke empathy in music.

  • Iris // Mar 6th 2022 at 9:31 pm

    Thank y’all for this blog post, and for reminding me about a song I haven’t heard since high school! Summer, I’m especially interested in the link you noted between art and empathy. Setting aside your (intriguing!) analysis of the narrator’s empathy within the piece, what about the emotion evoked in the listener? Of course we feel sad when we listen to a song about a sad subject, but is the emotional manipulation that art undertakes really “empathy”? Not to be too much of a lit major, but the narrator isn’t the author. We’re not feeling the emotion of another actual person—we’re responding emotionally to a product designed to generate precisely this response. The experience seems related to empathy (both involve emotion sharing), but I’m curious as to whether psychology broadly considers responding to art to be an empathetic reaction.

    Also, this is a minor point, but I was happy to hear Lake mention the intrinsic desire to help present in toddlers. I’ve taught a toddler class for the past two years, and thought about them throughout our discussion last week. Toddlers are genuinely the most helpful creatures on the planet! They don’t have a robust understanding of cause-and-effect, so it’s clearly not for some reward. They’re just… built to be helpful. I didn’t know how to fit that point into our discussion of altruism, because it’s different than big-scale, jumping-in-front-of-a-train kindness. But I did have the image of my two-year-olds going way out of their way to help each other in the back of my head when people in class suggested that humans aren’t capable of unselfish altruism.

  • Gayoung Choi // Mar 7th 2022 at 4:29 pm

    I like how cohesive this blog post is! Summer, your analysis of the song How to Save a Life is interesting because I’ve never really thought about the lyrics. Summer’s analysis and Michael’s comments about spending money on people made me think about the Case Against Empathy, though. I have been in the position where I was constantly trying to be empathetic toward my friends with depression and always going out of my way to spend money on my past partners, to the point where it became quite exhausting. I think having too much empathy, I was unable to regulate my own emotions and it led to some negative consequences. I wonder if there is a healthy limit to empathy and how each person can draw boundaries to protect themselves.

  • Jessica Lee // Mar 7th 2022 at 5:34 pm

    Summer, thank you for sharing your thoughts and experiences on how to best help a friend suffering from depression. I agree that empathy is a crucial start to saving a life. In my personal experience, when trying to help friends who are struggling, problem analysis and advice-giving isn’t the approach that is most appreciated by the friend. Rather, it is a listening ear, a shoulder to cry on, or even a supportive presence that is the most helpful — where the friend can really feel heard, understood, and empathized with.

    Lake, I found it really interesting to learn how a child’s relationship with their parents affects their ability to be empathetic and help others. It made me wonder what other determinants affect a child’s ability to exhibit empathy toward others? Are there other things that parents can do to help their child connect with others, form social connections, and show altruism through acts like standing up to bullies?

    Michael, it was so striking to learn that small acts of empathy and kindness can actually impact your own heart health! In response to your second empirical example, I oftentimes do find it much more rewarding to spend money on others, like my friends, rather than myself. Thank you for reminding us all how valuable the small, casual acts of empathy are!

  • Spencer Carter // Mar 7th 2022 at 9:25 pm

    Summer,

    Your analysis of How to Save a Life was really interesting! I’d never considered how detached and rational the lyrics are. The chorus is sung with so much emotion and yet the verses are full of somewhat impersonal statements. It’s an interesting observation and emphasizes the negative consequences of not empathizing with a friend when they’re in need.

    Lake,

    Your story of standing up to a bully in elementary school was very compelling. In what I’d agree was an altruistic act, you punched the bully to get him to stop harassing his victim, knowing that you’d probably get in trouble for what you did. I was left wondering whether, if you were in a similar situation today, you would do the same thing. I ask this, not doubting your capacity for empathy, but instead wondering whether, as we age, our judgement of the best course of action in a situation like that would change, potentially because we may even feel some empathy toward the bully. As a college student, would you instead try to talk to the bully first? Get an authority figure involved? Or would you still see punching as the fastest way to shut down the harm you were witnessing?

    Michael,

    Your piece really brought the discussion of empathy to life and made me think about how I act in situations when I have the opportunity to do something nice for someone, but don’t always take it. I appreciated the wake-up call and the interesting findings about the relationship between giving and happiness and between giving and heart health.

  • Nia Fernandes // Mar 7th 2022 at 9:38 pm

    Great post Summer, Lake, and Michael!

    Summer, I have loved the song “How To Save a Life” for years. The way you broke down the song made me see the song in a new light with your insights along with De Waal’s and Zaki’s. Sometimes, we believe we have the ability to choose when we want to empathize and when we do not, but in reality, humans will always try to humanize with others from both an evolutionary and emotional perspective.

    Lake, thank you for sharing your experience from elementary school. It’s one I think we can all relate to from either witnessing or being bullied. I remember the first time I was bullied and not knowing how to react even though human nature should tell us how to. I remember the first time witnessing someone else being bullied and knowing how to react simply because I just wanted to help. The Hepach study taught us how we are wired to be intrinsically motivated to help others, and I think the connection you made to this study is really important. We need to remind ourselves every day that it is in our nature to help others even if our minds consider more external factors as we get older.

    Michael, this was very touching! It made me want to do more acts of kindness to my friends. Little acts of kindness are often not prioritized because we often think it’s a waste or that we’ll have time to do them later because we see people every day. Your post reminded me that life is short, and it’s meant to be spent with the ones we love and showing them we love them. It was cool to read how Whillans found an actual physiological reaction to spending money. Sometimes, we forget how our mental health is related to our physical health, even in acts of kindness! Thank you for sharing your perspective, Michael!

  • Helena Jiang // Mar 7th 2022 at 10:28 pm

    Summer, thank you for sharing your perspectives, and I love how you were able to tie in “How to Save a Life”, as I’m a HUGE Grey’s Anatomy fan and find it so jarring to hear it every time in an episode, knowing exactly what’s about to come up. While a negligible comment in regards to content, I also very much liked how you bolded the important aspects of your blog, as that really helped me process information better. I also do very much agree with the sentiment that empathy is always a great start towards saving a life.

    Lake, thank you so much for sharing your story regarding standing up to bullies; I find the note regarding the idea that young children are intrinsically motivated to see others helped very interesting. I definitely wonder what causes this change from young children to those who find tangible or even intangible motivation for their actions, and what we can do to change that, and whether or not we should change that in the first place.

    Michael, I find it really interesting that you connected this concept of to help or not to help a stranger on the street, such as helping a homeless person on the street as we discussed in class, to a similar situation such as thinking to just FaceTime your parents for 10 minutes, as they seem like wildly different motivations, but the act of pushing yourself over the edge to do so remains similar.

  • Lane // Mar 7th 2022 at 11:49 pm

    Summer, Lake, Michael — great post! Loved how you intertwined your three pieces into one blog post narrative. Lake’s story gave me a good laugh too. Not all heroes wear capes!

    As you pointed out in your first case, empathy is a good start, but not enough. Ultimately we need compassion to turn the emotions you feel from empathizing with another person into actions that help that person. Empathy may have the benefit of making someone feel more understood and thus be more resilient when facing negative emotions, but I still agree with Paul Bloom’s argument that compassion is more critical, since this is ultimately what motivates a person to act on behalf of another. Empathy without compassion is feeling someone else’s emotions but doing nothing about it. Compassion without empathy, while not ideal, seems significantly better than the inverse because it involves consistently “showing up” for your friend, and these actions signal to the friend that they are cared about. Obviously the two are best when paired together, and while they frequently are, there are still many cases where one shows up without the other. We started digging into this a little in class but questions like “what factors explain why empathy doesn’t always lead to compassion?” are important to answer to better understand how to more effectively channel innate human empathy into more humanitarian action. I think it’s therefore important that this relationship continue to be researched.

  • Julia // Mar 8th 2022 at 2:06 pm

    Thank you all for this great blog post! I had a similar reaction when reading Bloom’s argument against empathy, in that although it can have negative consequences, there are situations where empathy can be beneficial.

    Summer, I really enjoyed your analysis of the song “How to Save a Life” and it is one of the song’s I go to when I want feel to the range of emotions you mentioned: sadness, frustration, and guilt. However, I had never explicitly thought about this song in terms of empathy, or how unempathetic the singer may be. The song is sung with so much emotion, yet the actual lyrics do have an element of detachment and dehumanization. It made me think of situations having to help friends with depression. I think it can be very difficult for people to mentalize with someone who in a state of depression if that is something they have never experienced. There is an urge to help this person help themselves and tell them what they need to do to better themselves, but it is sometimes the better option to be an empathetic listener.

    Lake, I really admired your interesting example of how putting yourself in another’s shoes can mitigate the bystander effect. As someone who is typically on the shyer side and avoids conflict, in a similar situation, despite feeling awful for a person being bullied and knowing how I would feel as the person being picked on, I do not know if I would have taken action. It makes me wonder if empathy is enough for people to altruistically. As you mentioned, children have an intrinsic motivation to see that other people are helped, and I wonder how much the environment someone grows up in and how often one gets to witness altruistic actions affects this motivation later on in life.

    Michael, I enjoyed how you advocated for more empathy in casual situations. We so often live in our own individuals worlds, and know that we should empathize in situations when our friends are struggling or when someone is being bullied, but often times the little acts of empathy do not come to mind. I think it is harder to be empathetic in a more casual setting because it requires more effort to remind yourself that it is a positive thing to help others even when they are not in desperate times of need. As the research shows, it helps both your mental and physical health to do so, which is an added bonus!

  • Maya Dubin // Mar 8th 2022 at 2:06 pm

    Summer –

    Summer, I have also cried to the song “How to Save a Life” and I think this was a great example to draw on empathy in pop culture. On a broader note I really appreciated how you bolded your terms and laid everything out in a clear and concise way. I think your ending sentiment – empathy alone is not enough to save a life, but its a good start is extremely accurate and something to consider. One point in particular for us all to consider is how empathy could flip the script on certain mental illnesses. Makes me ask the question – if we all were more empathetic would we be able to save lives and make people feel more loved by their communities?

    Lake –
    I thought one of the most important points you raised was that young children are “intrinsically motivated to see others and help.” Perhaps this can change the way that we raise children and something for parents to promote when raising children.

    Michael –
    I was particularly interested by the point you highlighted in the Whillans reading – that spending money on others can improve cardiovascular health. The connection here between the physical and emotional wellbeing is very intriguing. It demonstrates the clear connection between our mind, body connection.

  • Anthony Nelson // Mar 8th 2022 at 7:27 pm

    Love the blog post! I love the analysis of how music can bring us together despite race, caste, geography, income, etc… It is also very interesting how we can empathize with music. This reminds me of the feelings I was given when the Waka was released before the world cup when I was younger. Despite the country, everyone was singing this and associated it with the world cup. This made me feel as if for a moment everyone was connected. Lake I find it interesting that you pointed out that from a young age it seems as if we are programmed to show some form of empathy and altruism. Finally Michael I enjoyed your hint at how low the cost of altruism is in most cases. I feel as if more people aimed to do this it would cause a chain reaction leading to overall more altruism in communities.

  • Stephanie // Apr 14th 2022 at 6:42 pm

    Summer, Lake and Michael, great blog post! I really enjoyed how all three of you took a unique and different perspective to empathy and showed how it is applicable in so many facets of our lives.

    Summer- I really enjoyed how you broke down the song and provided additional context to what you believed the song was really saying and how it maybe didn’t provide the best example of empathy. I now totally look at the song in a different way.

    Lake- Your story really showed the instinctive nature of empathy and how that relates to altruism. It is super interesting how you related that to the way that you were raised and how your parents had an effect on you.

    Michael- I really like how you showed that empathy does not have to be a super big or grand gesture and really can just be the little things as well. It definitely puts into perspective the daily things that we can do to brighten somebody’s day and show a little empathy.

  • Patrick Walsh // May 1st 2022 at 6:33 pm

    Thank you Summer, Lake and Michael for your blog posts about empathy, they were all very interesting to read. Lake – thank you for sharing your experience about standing up to a bully at your school when you were in elementary school. I agree with you when you talked about how bullies are often people who believe they are in a position of power, in this case it was a kid two years older than you trying to pick on younger kids. I find it interesting how even from such a young age we are able to empathize with others so strongly, to the point of risking getting in trouble at school to make sure that another classmate feels safe. You mentioned how your parents raised you to be empathetic and to help others which makes me wonder how much empathy you are born with and how much is acquired from your surroundings.

  • Arlo Sims // May 5th 2022 at 5:01 pm

    Michael, you writing made me think about how often I do kind little things for friends and strangers. After taking this class and learning that when you give someone a gift it actually often makes you happier than the person who you give the gift to, I almost have a tendency to overthink small gifts like this. It feels slightly awkward to get a small gift for a friend because is it selfless or selfish since I might be the one getting happier? I think the right way to think about this is that if I’m getting the gift out of caring about my friend, then the natural happiness that I get should just be thought of as an added bonus. But then it’s easy to think about what motivated me to get this gift. Was it really the selfless nature of it? Or subconsciously am I aware that it will make me happy, and maybe even the thought of getting the gift makes me happy. It is quite an interesting thing to think about, and I hope that I still can get small gifts for friends without it feeling weird.

  • Esther Xiang // May 14th 2022 at 9:21 pm

    Thank y’all so much for this beautiful post! “How to Save a Life” by The Fray is one of my favorite songs. It reminds me of many experiences in the past. One simple act. A phone call. A smile. a simple hello. I love you. Opening the door for someone. Letting a cargo in front of you. Inviting someone over who may be alone. A thoughtful text. Paying for the coffee behind you. Writing a letter. Forgiving someone. A big hug. a little hug. a joke. Sharing a laugh. Sparing some change. A friendly conversation. Taking a deep breath together. Holding space. Sending someone a song that reminds you of them. Praying with or for someone. There are so many tiny acts that make a huge difference in this world. No act is too small.

    There have been days in the past where I felt really low, but I would get some random act of kindness, and it would lift me out of the dark just a bit. Bringing me out of my head and into my heart. Into love. We never know what one tiny act could really do. The ripple effects seem infinite to me. And not only does share love and kindness help the person receiving it, but it will fill your heart too. And it can even help you get out of your own head connecting with another heart. Not to mention it feels so so so amazing to share the love. Because if ya have it, why not share it.

    I hope through this madness, a new normal emerges where empathy is everywhere, where there is less suffering alone and more connection between us. Where we say what we feel when we feel it because we understand the fragility of this whole being human thing. I hope we collectively start caring more about each other. I hope we shift from avoidance of emotional pain + lean into healing. I hope we learn. may it be known – I’m happy you’re here. 🙂

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