Through the Eye of a Fish: The importance of empathy

The BC Family Justice Innovation Lab employs an approach we call “systemic human-centred design”.  The first phase of the model is “discovery” of the experiences of the users (the people the system is intended to serve), in our case the human beings who are involved in separation and divorce in BC.  We have written before about the importance of starting there (rather than with the experts) and, in particular, about the need to begin with empathy for the user experience.  Without that, any design we come up with is unlikely to enhance the well-being of the families, including their children.

In his recent article, “The Most Important Skill People are Losing”, Gustavo Razzetti laments society’s loss of empathy, which he defines as:

“Empathy is more than walking in someone else’s shoes; it’s the ability to see and connect with others because they are human.”

Loss of empathy in turn leads to loss of true social connectivity.  Gustavo takes the time to describe two types of empathy:  emotional and cognitive.  Emotional empathy involves feeling what other people feel and is motivated by our mirror neurons.  Cognitive empathy involves understanding people and “perspective taking’.  It is cognitive empathy that is the focus of the human-centred design process.  “Understanding other people’s perspectives promotes diversity of thinking”.

While boating this summer I explored our Garmin GPS system.  I knew that it provides a navigation chart (a bird’s eye view of the area):

But I discovered that it also provides a “Fish Eye View” showing what the landscape looks like from directly under the boat:

The coloured blobs are some kind of sea creatures hiding in the shade looking up at the bottom of our boat!  This perspective reminded me of how different things can look through the eyes of another – even a fish.

I wonder how we could employ a “fish eye view” more often in our social interactions.  We would have to be more curious to find out what is really going on and humble enough to see and put aside our own assumptions and biases.  It is worth exercising our empathy muscle in order to avoid further deteriorating our critical social connections with each other.

As a final note, here is another perspective from our boat of the same location, this time looking out at the beautiful (but smoky) BC scenery at our anchorage:

Perspective really matters.  As always, your comments would be most appreciated.

Kari D. Boyle

One Comment - Leave a Comment
  • Eelkjen (Elly) Hamstra -

    ” Culture makes people understand each other better. And if they understand each other better in their souls, it is easier to overcome the economic and political barriers. But first they have to understand that their neighbour in the end is just like them, with the same problems, the same questions..”
    Paulo Coelho (lyricist & novelist).

    Thank you Kari, I could not agree more.

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