6 ways to cultivate more empathy in your life and in the world
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We live in a world that tempts us every day to be less empathetic. Whether it's the conflict-driven world of social media, the daily disasters we see on the news, or the victims of mental illness we see on the streets. Seeing and feeling others' pain can be overwhelming.

However, as humans we are hard-wired to be empathetic. We aren't just self-serving beings whose relationships are wholly transnational in nature. We have evolved to give without receiving, to feel for those we've never met, and to cooperate and provide mutual aid in our communities.


Roman Krznaric, Ph.D., a founding faculty member of The School of Life in London and empathy adviser to the United Nations, made a list of six ways that we can cultivate empathy to be better members of our community and planet.

Habit 1: Cultivate curiosity about strangers

Highly empathetic people are very interested in strangers. They will chat with the person behind them in line at the supermarket and crack a joke or two with the gas station teller.

But cultivating curiosity in others isn't just about small talk. Krznaric believes one of the best ways to cultivate this curiosity is to challenge yourself to have one conversation with a stranger a week. "All it requires is courage," he wrote.

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Habit 2: Challenge prejudices and discover commonalities

It's very easy to label other people based on their social identities, e.g. "soccer mom" or "hipster." These labels often prevent us from getting to really know them or explore our commonalities.

To cultivate an attitude of empathy, try to engage in label-free thinking, and focus on the things you share in common instead.

Habit 3: Try another person's life

Sometimes our lifestyles become so ingrained that that those who live differently than us become increasingly foreign. To break that cycle, why not try someone else's life on for a while?

"If you are religiously observant, try a 'God Swap,' attending the services of faiths different from your own, including a meeting of Humanists," Krznaric writes. "Or if you're an atheist, try attending different churches! Spend your next vacation living and volunteering in a village in a developing country."

Habit 4: Listen hard—and open up

Krznaric says there are two different traits required for being an empathetic conversationalist: radical listening and vulnerability.

"What is essential is our ability to be present to what's really going on within—to the unique feelings and needs a person is experiencing in that very moment," Marshall Rosenberg, psychologist and founder of Non-Violent Communication (NVC), said about radical listening.

Vulnerability involves "removing our masks and revealing our feelings to someone is vital for creating a strong empathic bond," Krznaric writes. Whereas "empathy is a two-way street that, at its best, is built upon mutual understanding—an exchange of our most important beliefs and experiences."

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Habit 5: Inspire mass action and social change

One can increase their own empathetic abilities by supporting organizations that encourage its growth in the world. Krznaric recommends Canada's pioneering Roots of Empathy, a teaching program that has benefited over a million school kids.

We can also help sow the seeds of empathy by creating spaces in social media for it to flourish. Krznaric believes that social media can convince us to care deeply about the suffering of distant strangers.

Habit 6: Develop an ambitious imagination

It's important to empathize with people who we perceive as "enemies." Understanding those with whom we disagree or are in engaged in conflict with, gives us a strategic ability to help change their course or come to a compromise.

This is known as "instrumental empathy" and it can go a long way.

Courtesy of Amita Swadhin
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In 2016, Amita Swadhin, a child of two immigrant parents from India, founded Mirror Memoirs to help combat rape culture. The national storytelling and organizing project is dedicated to sharing the stories of LGBTQIA+ Black, indigenous people, and people of color who survived child sexual abuse.

"Whether or not you are a survivor, 100% of us are raised in rape culture. It's the water that we're swimming in. But just as fish don't know they are in water, because it's just the world around them that they've always been in, people (and especially those who aren't survivors) may need some help actually seeing it," they add.

"Mirror Memoirs attempts to be the dye that helps everyone understand the reality of rape culture."

Amita built the idea for Mirror Memoirs from a theater project called "Undesirable Elements: Secret Survivors" that featured their story and those of four other survivors in New York City, as well as a documentary film and educational toolkit based on the project.

"Secret Survivors had a cast that was gender, race, and age-diverse in many ways, but we had neglected to include transgender women," Amita explains. "Our goal was to help all people who want to co-create a world without child sexual abuse understand that the systems historically meant to help survivors find 'healing' and 'justice' — namely the child welfare system, policing, and prisons — are actually systems that facilitate the rape of children in oppressed communities," Amita continues. "We all have to explore tools of healing and accountability outside of these systems if we truly want to end all forms of sexual violence and rape culture."

Amita also wants Mirror Memoirs to be a place of healing for survivors that have historically been ignored or underserved by anti-violence organizations due to transphobia, homophobia, racism, xenophobia, and white supremacy.

Amita Swadhin

"Hearing survivors' stories is absolutely healing for other survivors, since child sexual abuse is a global pandemic that few people know how to talk about, let alone treat and prevent."

"Since sexual violence is an isolating event, girded by shame and stigma, understanding that you're not alone and connecting with other survivors is alchemy, transmuting isolation into intimacy and connection."

This is something that Amita knows and understands well as a survivor herself.

"My childhood included a lot of violence from my father, including rape and other forms of domestic violence," says Amita. "Mandated reporting was imposed on me when I was 13 and it was largely unhelpful since the prosecutors threatened to incarcerate my mother for 'being complicit' in the violence I experienced, even though she was also abused by my father for years."

What helped them during this time was having the support of others.

"I'm grateful to have had a loving younger sister and a few really close friends, some of whom were also surviving child sexual abuse, though we didn't know how to talk about it at the time," Amita says.

"I'm also a queer, non-binary femme person living with complex post-traumatic stress disorder, and those identities have shaped a lot of my life experiences," they continue. "I'm really lucky to have an incredible partner and network of friends and family who love me."

"These realizations put me on the path of my life's work to end this violence quite early in life," they said.

Amita wants Mirror Memoirs to help build awareness of just how pervasive rape culture is. "One in four girls and one in six boys will be raped or sexually assaulted by the age of 18," Amita explains, "and the rates are even higher for vulnerable populations, such as gender non-conforming, disabled, deaf, unhoused, and institutionalized children." By sharing their stories, they're hoping to create change.

"Listening to stories is also a powerful way to build empathy, due to the mirror neurons in people's brains. This is, in part, why the project is called Mirror Memoirs."

So far, Mirror Memoirs has created an audio archive of BIPOC LGBTQI+ child sexual abuse survivors sharing their stories of survival and resilience that includes stories from 60 survivors across 50 states. This year, they plan to record another 15 stories, specifically of transgender and nonbinary people who survived child sexual abuse in a sport-related setting, with their partner organization, Athlete Ally.

"This endeavor is in response to the more than 100 bills that have been proposed across at least 36 states in 2021 seeking to limit the rights of transgender and non-binary children to play sports and to receive gender-affirming medical care with the support of their parents and doctors," Amita says.

In 2017, Mirror Memoirs held its first gathering, which was attended by 31 people. Today, the organization is a fiscally sponsored, national nonprofit with two staff members, a board of 10 people, a leadership council of seven people, and 500 members nationally.

When the pandemic hit in 2020, they created a mutual aid fund for the LGBTQIA+ community of color and were able to raise a quarter-million dollars. They received 2,509 applications for assistance, and in the end, they decided to split the money evenly between each applicant.

While they're still using storytelling as the building block of their work, they're also engaging in policy and advocacy work, leadership development, and hosting monthly member meetings online.

For their work, Amita is one of Tory's Burch's Empowered Women. Their donation will go to Mirror Memoirs to help fund production costs for their new theater project, "Transmutation: A Ceremony," featuring four Black transgender, intersex, and non-binary women and femmes who live in California.

"I'm grateful to every single child sexual survivor who has ever disclosed their truth to me," Amita says. "I know another world is possible, and I know survivors will build it, together with all the people who love us."

To learn more about Tory Burch and Upworthy's Empowered Women program visit https://www.toryburch.com/empoweredwomen/. Nominate an inspiring woman in your community today!

This article originally appeared on 11.21.16


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In 2015, Upworthy shared Crawford's self-portraits and our readers responded with tons of empathy. One person said, "What a wonderful way to express what words cannot." Another reader added, "I think she hit the nail right on the head. It's like a constant battle with yourself. I often feel my emotions battling each other."

So we wanted to go back and talk to the photographer directly about this soul-baring project.

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When a pet is admitted to a shelter it can be a traumatizing experience. Many are afraid of their new surroundings and are far from comfortable showing off their unique personalities. The problem is that's when many of them have their photos taken to appear in online searches.

Chewy, the pet retailer who has dedicated themselves to supporting shelters and rescues throughout the country, recognized the important work of a couple in Tampa, FL who have been taking professional photos of shelter pets to help get them adopted.

"If it's a photo of a scared animal, most people, subconsciously or even consciously, are going to skip over it," pet photographer Adam Goldberg says. "They can't visualize that dog in their home."

Adam realized the importance of quality shelter photos while working as a social media specialist for the Humane Society of Broward County in Fort Lauderdale, Florida.

"The photos were taken top-down so you couldn't see the size of the pet, and the flash would create these red eyes," he recalls. "Sometimes [volunteers] would shoot the photos through the chain-link fences."

That's why Adam and his wife, Mary, have spent much of their free time over the past five years photographing over 1,200 shelter animals to show off their unique personalities to potential adoptive families. The Goldbergs' wonderful work was recently profiled by Chewy in the video above entitled, "A Day in the Life of a Shelter Pet Photographer."