March 26, 2014

Difficult Conversation 4 The Challenge of Empathy: Why Is It So Much Easier to Pass Judgement?
Time: 3:30 PM - 5:00 PM
Location: Multicultural Center, WIU's Macomb Campus
Description: The Difficult Conversations series brings students, faculty, and staff together to discuss challenging issues based on both real and perceived differences. The March conversation, the fourth and last conversation scheduled for the 2013-2014 academic year, addresses the difficulties we all have with putting ourselves in another person’s shoes—especially if those shoes belong to someone who, for example, does not look like us or worship like us or speak the same language as we do.

Sympathy is the recognition of others’ feelings, without sharing them or feeling any sense of connectedness. Defensiveness is “yes, but…”—a response that simultaneously minimizes someone else’s feelings and allows us to feel justified in our reactions. Empathy, on the other hand, is the capacity to recognize and appreciate the feelings, thoughts, and beliefs of others. More than that, empathy is a sense as valuable to life as are sight and hearing.

This year’s final conversation addresses the nature of empathy, and why it may be easier for many of us to feel sympathetic or defensive, rather than empathic, toward people we believe we have little in common with. The tensions among diverse groups that result in a lack of empathy are often a result of our lack of practice at considering cultural norms outside of our own. It’s easy to decide someone ahead of us in line at the store doesn’t deserve the food stamps she’s using to pay, if we don’t know her circumstances. It’s easy to feel uncomfortable and pass judgment on students who are speaking in a different language than English. If we’re being honest, for most of us it’s easier to defend our positions or opinions than to listen to others’.

How do we recognize and develop the quality of empathy. Why might doing so make us not only better people, but more effective at our current and future jobs, relationships, and lives? Is simply knowing someone’s circumstances or norms enough to make us empathic, or is there more to it? What makes it so hard to get past our “knee jerk” reactions?

Dr. Tracy Knight (Psychology) and Andrea Henderson (Equal Opportunity and Access) will provide context about the nature of empathy and provide examples of some of the conflicts on campus that call for empathy, as a prelude to small group discussions.

Faculty, students, and staff are all welcome and encouraged to attend. Registration is not required. Light refreshments will be served.

Contact Information:
 Debra Miretzky
 Phone: 309-298-1528
Source: Multicultural

Western Illinois University
1 University Circle * Macomb, IL 61455
Phone: 309/298-1414 * E-mail
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