5 ways to ‘Up Our Empathy’

As the U.S. Youth Advisory Council (#AshokaYCouncil), we are calling on fellow young Changemakers of all backgrounds and beliefs to peacefully come together to cultivate spaces for understanding one another’s narratives so that we can unite our country under the banner of shared humaness and empathy.

Post by Daniella Cohen, US Youth Council rep| Edited by Mohsin Mohi Ud Din, Ashoka’s Youth Venture

For many students across America, it feels like we live in a time when our differences are what are at the forefront, not our similarities or ‘shared humanness’.

Some of us are excited and happy. Some of us are scared. Some of us are confused, and some of us are indifferent. All of us have our own views and feelings on a day to day basis. All of us have our own battles to fight for attaining happiness and living out a life of purpose and meaning.

Despite the diversity of our personal journeys, one thing is for certain: Our country needs ALL of us to work together as creative problem solvers, champions of empathy, and Changemakers.

Empathy is a powerful thing, but it is not meant to be an easy tool that lives and operates in the space of comfort, closed networks, or isolation.

Empathy pushes us to make contact with our best selves, by making contact with those around us. Empathy is not easy, but it’s necessary. Being a Changemaker is not easy, but it is necessary.

As the U.S. Youth Advisory Council (#AshokaYCouncil), we are calling on fellow young Changemakers of all backgrounds and beliefs to peacefully come together to cultivate spaces for understanding one another’s narratives so that we can unite our country under the banner of shared humaness and empathy.

5 things to try for building empathy…

Engage with us by using the hashtag #AshokaYCouncil and #UpYourEmpathy to share your stories of how you are putting empathy to action. Has it benefited your personal Changemaker journey and your community?

Here are some simple ideas for what you can do to empathize with what is uncomfortable:

1. Spread love, where you don’t want to: It is easy to be kind to the people we already feel comfortable with. It is much more difficult to be kind to the people that we feel offend us, or, whom we may disagree with. Start with a smile, give a compliment, or send a hand-written note explaining why you appreciate this person. You may be surprised; kindness can harness empathy with people you never thought you could understand.

2. Challenge people outside your digital bubble: If you wanted to do something online, you could make an open call on Facebook, Twitter, or Snapchat and ask any person in a network to engage with you for a peaceful empathy-building session for understanding one another. Ask questions, listen and build a space for empathy with someone different than you so that you lead by example and offer them a chance to return it to you. Please take a picture, or make it a Facebook Live video, tagging your efforts with Upworthy’s #UpYourEmpathy and #AshokaYCouncil so that we can join you and track the conversations.

3. Ask! Offline, at your school or community, ask the questions that you don’t want to. Ask your friends and family members. Approach your conversations from a place of active listening without giving into threat- perception or defensiveness. Push the boundaries of your ability to understand things out of your comfort zone. Remember, we all are battling something. While some battles may be more difficult than others, all battles are hard. You could make this an interactive assembly or townhall at your school, or even a family meeting with your siblings. The topic can be about how to build a safe space, and a changemaker space for pursuing understanding and empathy. Take a picture, or make it a Facebook Live video, tagging your efforts with Upworthy’s #UpYourEmpathy and #AshokaYCouncil so that we can join you and track the conversations.

4. Look! Understand someone you disagree with without language. Invite both people from your school, network, and those who may hold different views than you to a challenge for understanding one another on a human level. Participate in the following exercise: Set up a performance exhibition where one person sits at a table and invites any person to sit across from them. Both volunteers will communicate without words by staring at each other’s eyes for four minutes. It is a powerful nonverbal, and non violent form of communication, and it is proven to promote mutual understanding. Watch!

5. Connect with Ashoka Fellows: If there is a community issue you care about, and you want to plug into innovative ways for making an impact, connect with Ashoka Fellows and search innovations and organizations by topic, here.

Bio: Daniella Cohen is a U.S. representative of the Ashoka Global Youth Council. She is the CEO of Go GIVE Global, a non-profit that facilitates letter writing exchanges and strengthens the education of schools in rural India and Uganda by installing internet. Before Attending Princeton University, she is taking a gap year interning for Ashoka and Facebook.

*Disclaimer: This post is by the Youth Council, and is not an official statement of Ashoka or Youth Venture Inc. The views bravely expressed by young Changemakers in this youth blog are not representative of any organizations or partners.