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The Importance of Empathy

By: Palanikumar Ganesan, Volunteer from India, IHF Bali Education Center 


The definition of “empathy” is the ability to identify and understand another’s situation, feelings and motives. It is simply “putting yourself in another’s shoes” or “seeing through another’s eyes.” Empathy is a feeling that cannot be outsourced.

In the words of American Educator Maya Soetoro, “We need to teach our children empathy, care, love, communication and social responsibility in preparation for their adulthood.” Empathy is a tool that can be used for bringing people with differences into a close community.

We need to first fully understand and accept ourselves as we are. This will in turn make us transparent in expressing our feelings. Only then will we be able to truly be compassionate, empathetic and loving to our fellow human beings.

In our VUCA (volatile, uncertain, complex, ambiguous) world, the rich are becoming richer and the poor –poorer. The divide is only growing wider.

There are people who do not have the opportunities to exercise their basic human rights, many of them do not even know what their basic rights are. Some of them do not even have access to basic human needs -  food, shelter, quality education, etc. They are the oppressed, and entire regions of society are left vulnerable.

Whom will they turn to? Who can help them? Only those who empathize with them and have the courage to advocate for them.

These people need some willing saviors, like Gandhi, Mandela, and Lincoln to stand up and advocate for them. Imagine what those situations would have been if those heros were not there. The oppressed in their time would likely still be waiting for someone to come along and raise a voice for them.

And why can’t one of the children we serve be the one to stand up? All children should be groomed at a very young age to be true to their feelings. They should be taught to be transparent and honest. The onus of this falls on each of us. We must take up the responsibility to teach them to understand themselves and the needs of others as well as teach them to speak up whenever necessary.

Advocating for another’s cause is the primary exercise in Empathy. Ignorance and prejudice make advocacy impossible. We should set an example that makes children understand that if they are being self-centered and judgmental then they can’t empathize. They should learn from us to find the echoes of other people in them.

The goal is to be assertive first and then help themselves and others become better people.

I would like to conclude with the following quote by James Morcan, a New Zealand writer:

“No genuine change in society ever occurs without the mass public getting behind a cause. The good guys in government are counting on enough of us common people waking up and demanding more rights and greater freedoms.”