Yehuda Tagar

Empathy is a new word for a new phenomena. Everyone thinks that it is an ancient Greek word like sympathy and antipathy. It is not. Coined in 1909 by the British psychologist Tichener at Cornel University in New York as a translation of the German word ‘einfulung’ (to feel into a work of art) it only became a public word with specific meaning with the publication of ‘Person Centred Therapy’ of Carl Rogers in 1951.  The word is not to be found in any dictionary before 1951.

Neither was the phenomena of empathy much to be found 65years ago. Empathy practically means: understanding another person’s experience from that other person’s own point of view. That is easier said than done. It requires special effort, a choice and an initiative. There is no unconscious empathy. It can only become a reality when done consciously. Empathy is not an attitude, a personal attribute, an ideology or a moral ideal. It certainly not sympathy, love or compassion. It is a new organ of perception for the inner reality of someone else. It requires an inner eye, and inner ear, an inner knowing of the other. We are not born with it. Each of us has to develop his/her own empathy during one’s own lifetime. We are all babies in real empathy.

We have lost the instinctive tribal mutual understanding between the natural members of one ethnic, national, religious and native group. We are all becoming more and more independent individuals, whether we like it or not. This process leads to isolation. The way forward is the conscious development of empathy as the new principle of functional civil society. 

Empathy is needed as an essential ingredient of any human interaction, personal, social and professional. It is is growing demand and in short supply. As Obama coined it in 2008: we all suffer from the ‘empathy deficit’.

Empathy can be taught. This column is dedicated to the sharing of discoveries, insights and practical developmental possibilities arising out of the process of ‘Methodical Empathy’ which I have developed over the past 26 years, working in South Africa, Australia, Hungary, Slovakia and am currently offering in England and Scotland.

Watch this space. And please come to my event in Brighton on the 8th July: Tickets available from eventbrite