defining empathy

The term "empathy" is becoming more pervasive in our lexicons. It's exciting and timely and fortunate that such a concept is becoming more widespread, and it becomes more important than ever to turn a careful eye to what we actually mean when we say "empathy." How do you define empathy? Can we measure and quantify empathy? How do we account for discrepancies in the interpretations of the term? 

COOL AND THOUGHTFUL is a project standing for a shift in social values: from individualism to empathy. Photo via Instagram: @coolandthoughtful.

COOL AND THOUGHTFUL is a project standing for a shift in social values: from individualism to empathy. Photo via Instagram: @coolandthoughtful.

Within this project, empathy has a twofold definition: first, empathy is quantified as a moment of pause in which you consider what might be happening in the other person's world -- wonder why they responded the way they did -- before you react or jump to a conclusion. Second, empathy is a practice of imagining how the world looks to others, a definition I have borrowed from the folks at a beautiful strategy consulting firm, Incandescent.

This second understanding is the kind of empathy that COOL AND THOUGHTFUL strives to embody and share. Here, the idea of a practice is particularly powerful because it implies a long-term commitment to a way of being and suggests a willingness to climb "a mountain with no top," while seeing value and finding joy in the climb itself. Within this practice, "empathy" is not a one-and-done thing, but rather, it is something that is live and evolving. This kind of deep engagement is at the heart of what it means to be "Cool And Thoughtful," but even more so, this practice of digging in for the long haul -- making a long and not-always-easy commitment to something that you feel truly will make a different and regularly acting on that commitment -- is the kind of mindset and behavior that can help seeds of a vision bloom into something real.