I've been planning to do a radio story on empathy for more than a year, but it's never really come together. Now I probably don't have to. This animation from the Royal Society of Arts narrated by Brene Brown breaks down the difference between empathy and sympathy so well, and why it matters.
The only thing this animation doesn't cover that I am curious about, is the connection between empathy and policies around poverty. I talked to researcher Elizabeth Segal, one of the few academics studying this, about the connection.
Segal says a lack of empathy might a key reason poverty policy might not work as well as it could. "Most of the people in positions to make public policy and social welfare programs don't have any personal experience or insight, empathically, into what it's like to be poor in this country."
Segal isn't saying policy makers have hard hearts or don't want to make effective policy. It's more an issue of "you don't know what you don't know." The question is whether or not more empathetic policy makers would make more effective policies.
If not, maybe it would at least make for a more interesting debate, as both sides march out the same old tired talking points each time these programs are up for debate. Times like right now, as the national budget battle takes its turn in the media cycle.