on empathy as ideology


i felt a great deal of tension reading Jade E Davis’ zine this week. i’ve been trying to process, like others, how empathy, which seems so innocuous, even virtuous, can be weaponized. and honestly, feelings of anger and even guilt came up for me as i sat with this question. i remember the first time that empathy was introduced to me in a professional setting. it was during a DEI workshop/training via a Brené Brown animated video (https://twentyonetoys.com/blogs/teaching-empathy/brene-brown-empathy-vs-sympathy). it’s not lost on me that this video seems to have been produced by an organization called “RSA” (the royal society for arts). in the video, you can hear Brown’s voiceover, where she says that empathy is a vulnerable choice, a connecting with something within ourselves. here we were, a relatively diverse group of educators, being taught how to more deeply connect with our students and their families via empathy. i’m still unpacking what that means.

here is where i am today: it is ok to admit that we can never understand people’s distinct experiences. in fact, honoring our individual standpoints are what might lead us to something greater than we can imagine. Reading through the introduction of Costanza-Chock’s got me thinking about the role of multiplicity in design justice. being able to thoughtfully consider the experiences and needs of others as we design whatever we are trying to design feels paramount to me. is that what care is? thoughtful consideration? thoughtful listening? allowing ourselves to be moved by what we might not fully understand? the need to know *everything* feels like an impulse of domination. what if we allow ourselves to say…i don’t know/ i can’t imagine. but i am still moved. i still care. what possibilities come from this kind of vulnerability? of not knowing and still listening?

2 thoughts on “on empathy as ideology

  1. Katina Rogers (she/her)

    D, I appreciate the acknowledgement that the piece by Jade Davis sparked feelings of tension for you. It does for me, too, which is one of the reasons I wanted to assign it in the context of this class—I find it really tough to grapple with, and am very curious to hear the ways others interpret it. Looking forward to further discussion.

  2. Tuka Al-Sahlani


    I know that video. I have seen it –even had it as a part of a lesson for my high school students– and I am with you with that uncomfortanble feeling, but if there is one thing I am taking away from this course is that there is two –maybe three– sides of a coin, i.e. in the context of our course we have been trying to define these absstract ideas of power, percarity ,and care and we haven’t landed on a unianimous one. Writing this now, I learned that power is not always harmful, percarity is necessary,and care is relational. Next week, it might be something else.

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