Empathy and Storytelling: Connecting to Our Humanity
This blog post was inspired by one I wrote in March 2020 at the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic for Sociality Squared (Creativity Squared is brought to you by Sociality Squared). As we are faced with what is and what is not real, especially online, it remains as important as ever to connect to our humanity through empathy and imagination. Simply put, A.I. can not be empathetic as it is a deeply human emotion. Listen to Episode 8 with Eric Solomon to listen why A.I. will never be human and how empathy is core to human experience and connection. Keep reading for our take on empathy and its role in content creation.
“The great gift of human beings is that we have the power of empathy, we can all sense a mysterious connection to each other.”Meryl Streep
The Alchemy of Empathy
At Sociality Squared, we always think a lot about empathy in terms of our social media strategy for our clients. As we’ve embarked on the Creativity Squared podcast, it has become evident that empathy needs to play a large role in how we view A.I. and use it to create content and the stories we share online. Empathy is vital to seeing each other as real people behind a screen and is a key emotion in unraveling the human-machine connection.
We believe that empathy is the alchemy of the power of story, listening, and imagination that connects humans to one another.
At its best, the promise of the internet is to connect people and reinforce relationships that add meaning to our lives. People connect through the power of story, and connection is formed when someone’s story is listened to and heard — and resonates with the person.
People need to see themselves reflected in stories. We need to ask ourselves collectively: Are we training A.I. so that all people are represented in the stories we’re telling? The beauty of art can be found when a story more eloquently expresses a feeling than a person can describe in their own words. This is both our task and challenge as we create content online, especially when using artificial intelligence. We have to have empathy before we craft stories and that is uniquely human. A.I. inherently can not be empathetic although is may feel like it’s empathy, but it never will be because it has no human lived experience.
The Power of Imagination
Imagination is listening’s bridge for connection.
On hearing a heartbreaking or uncomfortable story shared from a friend, it’s easy to say, “I can’t imagine what it must be like.” While this is a common phrase to recognize that the person’s experience is unique and hard to understand, this line of thinking actually serves as a roadblock to empathy.
In his book “The War for Kindness,” Jamil Zaki, a psychology professor and neuroscientist at Stanford, writes:
Stories helped our ancestors imagine other lives, plan for possible futures, and agree on cultural codes. In the modern world, they help in a new way: flattening our empathic landscape, making distant others feel less distant and caring for them less difficult.
Through research from his own lab and others, Dr. Zaki shares that empathy is not a fixed trait—something we’re born with or not—but rather a skill that can be strengthened through effort.
For someone to be heard, empathy requires us to listen to their story and use our imagination to step into the other person’s shoes to understand their experience. Using your imagination for empathy is an action everyone can take.
However, empathy doesn’t mean that we have to agree with the person we’re listening to. It also doesn’t mean that we have to fix their grievance. Empathy isn’t necessarily doing what someone wants, but is truly showing that you understand and acknowledge their point of view. This requires compassion for that understanding, and showing that you care. If there’s not a clear action that can be taken to resolve a painful moment, showing empathy and sincerity is the most needed action to keep dignity and human connection.
Connecting through Empathy
As Brené Brown beautifully shares, connection is the essence of the human experience, and it is our ability to forge meaningful, authentic relationships with other people. She uses a continuum to illustrate connection — empathy anchors one end of human connection and is what moves us towards deep and meaningful relationships.
As creators – and humans connecting to one another – we have the opportunity to imagine beyond our own experiences. We can add value to the lives of those in our communities by having their stories acknowledged and heard, and by creating stories that reflect the full spectrum of the experiences in our communities.
Empathy is a principle of creating online content because at the end of the day, we’re connecting people to what they value and love. We should build communities of people connecting with one another, connecting through stories, listening, and imagination — connecting through empathy. This should never be lost even as we keep stepping forward with artificial intelligence. In fact, it becomes even more important. Whether you are creating or consuming content or even typing a comment on social media, try to view things through an empathetic eye.
While A.I. can amplify human productivity and creativity, it can never be truly empathetic. In this time when loneliness is becoming an epidemic, it’s more important now more than ever to embrace more human-to-human connection, build communities, and become more empathetic in how we connect with one another through the stories we tell, whether online or to each other in person.