Many studies would have us believe that empathy needs to be taught. I believe the contrary. I feel we are given the power of empathy in early development. It is in our DNA to care and feel what other people are feeling. Empathy often empowers us to react for the good. I see it in my nephew all of the time. When another kid doesn’t have a toy or someone else to play with, he takes responsibility for making that child feel better with a toy or his companionship. He is four. He doesn’t know the word empathy but he feels it.
As we mature and society beats us up, we lose track of that feeling. We aren’t aware of when our empathy is telling us to take action. Therefore, we have to learn how to access it. Because it is so hard for our post modern, technology filled society to genuinely reveal our empathy, organizations and campaigns must be extra witty and cunning to use our empathy to take action. Too many resources are spent doing this. We shouldn’t have to be tricked into acting and doing good because we feel someone else’s pain; that action should come naturally.
To thicken the wall between our actions and ability to naturally access our empathy, corporations advertise products to be intermingled with our emotions. That is f***ed up! When did heightened emotional stimulation become the new version of the bandwagon technique? My favorite current example is an American Eagle Outfitters commercial. We are told to cherish our imperfections. Be proud of our imperfection but also buy these clothes. I get it, there are imperfections in the clothes but that does not bring me security.
All the corporations do it. From Coke to Verizon, our positive emotions are being triggered and paired with certain products. Advertisers are so good at it that often, we don’t’ recognize it’s happening. We must be able to consciously say, “that is not really how I will feel with this product” along with, “this is causing me to be less empathetic.” I included a commercial I saw last summer in South Africa. It displays my point perfectly; a corporation that has nothing to do with the inspiration it’s igniting in the commercial.
We are entering the season when our empathy is the main tool for driving sales. As change agents, we must be strong and ask if the empathy and action being produced is authentic? Or, is it being stimulated by some corporation that desires you to leave your family on Thanksgiving to beat the Black Friday traffic? Please be mindful of what is being asked of you this month. We have individual power to take action. This agency can be combined with other people’s free will and real action will happen. We are all positive change agents and no one controls us or our empathy.