How do you scale empathy?

With an “Empathy Gym”!

I believe that empathy is the superpower that can help solve the biggest problems humanity is facing. These problems are at the scale where individual solutions aren’t enough. These are global climate change, hunger, poverty, and homelessness. I call these problems community or humanity uniting problems. However, our communities are experiencing increasing polarization, and even the reality of the problem is up for debate. The interest of the individuals is being weighed on the same scale as the survival of humanity.

Empathy enables us to understand ourselves and seek to understand others. The result of practicing empathy is a supportive and united community. We will be able to form communities that can solve these extinction causing problems. However, the problem with empathy is that it takes one on one interactions to understand each unique person, learn their unique lived experience which is informed by their intersectional identities.

On a planet of almost 8 billion humans there isn’t enough time or energy to scale those one-on-one interactions. We have used stereotypes to understand people from certain communities based on one of their identities. That has resulted in harm and toxicity. Stereotyping leads to phobias of those identities as well as erasure. Stereotypes was a method of scaling empathy that just does not work.

Technology has allowed us to scale. It is important to use technology to scale. However, it is just as important to scale with impact and intent in mind. We have seen the results of scaling platforms that enable misinformation under the guise of free speech. Facebook, Twitter, Whatsapp are some of the examples that have scaled with a specific intent but did not manage or own the impact. They scaled the acceleration of the empathy deficit and the polarization of our communities that we are experiencing right now. A recent example was when my mother told me that she believed that the variants of the COVID-19 virus were created in a laboratory by foreign governments. We know this is misinformation designed to further divide. This is an example of the result of these platforms that did not own the impact or even understand it. It is not only possible to scale empathy, but it is mission critical for humanity to do so. To scale empathy, it is first important to understand the components of learning empathy in the small scale — One on One.

To learn and practice empathy we first need to understand ourselves. This is the self-empathy component. We need to reflect inward and understand our evolving intersectional identities. Understanding our own unique lived experience enables us to truly accept the same for others. For example, not all gay people, or Black people, or immigrants have the same lived experiences, behaviors, dreams, problems, etc.

The next component of learning empathy is deep listening. We want to listen, be present and understand the emotion and feelings of the other person. We need to listen to the story, understand the why behind it. To demonstrate empathy, we want the other person to feel seen and heard. We want them to feel understood. We will not be able to do that without deep listening. We want to listen not to respond, but to understand.

After understanding and listening to the other person we want to understand how we feel. How did that interaction or connection with that person impact us? This allows us to extrapolate those feelings for others when taking their perspective. Finally, we want to use the understanding we have gained to feel how the other person is feeling. We want to filter out our biases and assumptions.

Empathy is an act of vulnerability. It does not mean you agree with the person on the position or endorse them. It is just understanding their unique perspective, acknowledging it and ensuring that the other person feels seen, heard, and understood.

Using technology to scale empathy seemed obvious to me. Once I understood how to build and practicing empathy effectively on the individual scale, I used technology to recreate these steps at scale. We need to create a shame-free safe spaces where people can come in with a growth mindset. An analog of this is gyms. People go to gyms with the mindset of growth for their bodies. Gyms are spaces where shame has been minimized. People sweat, change, dress comfortably, push their boundaries and support each other. So, if we similarly created an “empathy gym” at scale that removed the barriers and created a shame free space to be comfortable with discomfort we can achieve empathy at scale.

We created an empathy gym mobile app called Jaago (means to “wake up” in Hindi). It is a private judgment free supportive space to learn about yourself and your own intersectionality, learn and practice deep listening by listening to other people’s stories, and do the work to understand other people’s feelings and perspectives, and see measurable growth. It’s a trusted space to be comfortable with discomfort. Just like the physical gym you want to spend a small amount of time daily and build a habit. With the empathy gym you spend a few minutes each day practicing empathy. It drives long-term growth and behavioral changes. Additionally, we added a community component to create the pull for folks. Community is something physical fitness gyms rely on to draw their customers in. Our community component is creating private libraries of stories within your organization and the measured growth of the organization as a combination of the growth of each individual person. Creating private library of stories enable people to learn about each other in a deeper more meaningful way and start seeing the humans behind the titles.

Empathy is the superpower that can help deliver the goals of diversity, equity, and inclusion. Empathy is the platform (fueled by vulnerability) that can help solve the largest macro problems of your age. We have long struggled to grow empathy at scale, however we have come to a pivotal point in time where we now have the technology to be able to do it, and at Jaago we have done it.