The Power of Empathy

Sari Goldberg McKeownBlog, Connect Better


  • This post shares the power of empathy; empathy has the power to heal and create connections.
  • Relationships promote growth, are a source of inspiration and motivation, and allow people to share struggles and celebrations.
  • Four attributes of empathy include perspective taking, staying out of judgment, recognizing emotion in another person, and communicating that you can recognize that emotion.

I believe in the power of connections and relationships, and the power of empathy. Humans are inherently social creatures. We are cognitively, biologically, and spiritually wired to connect. Connections are the essence of the human experience and help form authentic relationships with others. 

I have always been intrigued by connections. What makes people connect? What makes people disconnect? How do we deepen connections? EMPATHY!

Empathy has the ability to move us towards deeper, more meaningful relationships. But what is empathy? Empathy has many layers, as well as many definitions…all of which I am learning and exploring.

If an expert is who you seek, I highly recommend connecting with the work of Dr. Helen Riess, Dr. Brene Brown, Roman Krznaric, Theresa Wiseman, and Dr. Heinz Kohut. They are true leaders in the study of empathy.

My hope in starting this #TeachBetter blog series is to create a space to share my doctoral journey. I am exploring the complexities of empathy and its impact on the field of education. Many, including myself, assume empathy has a positive effect on students, staff, and communities. However, I’m fascinated by the limited evidence and research on empathy in education. Together, let’s dive into the components of empathy, how we can build our empathetic capacity, and all of the reasons WHY we would want to do that.

What is Empathy? 

When you see someone yawn, what do you feel like doing? Have you ever ‘caught a yawn’? Believe it or not, catching a yawn is an indicator of empathy! But which type of empathy? Yes, there are different types of empathy! Oh, and empathy is NOT sympathy (while these terms may be inadvertently interchanged, there is actually a difference).

The term empathy only first appeared a century ago, in 1909. The origin of empathy stems from the Greek word empatheia, translated as “to suffer with.” Over the last decade, empathy has been receiving an increasing amount of attention. Various fields have studied empathy, the most common being the healthcare profession. Studies have proven that there is a direct correlation between empathetic physicians and health outcomes. Imagine: Empathy has the power to heal!

When you think about those in your life, how well do you listen and demonstrate empathy? Do you feel like you have a deep understanding of their story? Do you feel WITH them? And do they feel WITH you? Click To Tweet

Empathy is Complex

Depending upon who you are speaking to, the definition of empathy will vary. To complicate things further, there are over forty definitions for empathy. Nursing scholar Theresa Wiseman’s interpretation of empathy has resonated with me the most. She describes empathy through these four attributes:

Empathy exists on a continuum between cognitive empathy and emotional empathy. Cognitive empathy is simply understanding how someone feels, while emotional empathy is sharing someone’s feelings, actually ‘catching someone’s feelings,’ and feeling with them. 

The Power of Empathy: Empathy Drives Connection

Empathy connects us. And it reminds us that we are not alone. Empathy builds trust, the heart of relationships. Dr. Brene Brown created a powerful three-minute video explaining empathy (you won’t be disappointed!). She describes the space that each of us must enter to demonstrate empathy. Entering that empathetic space may not be easy.

It requires vulnerability. It may also trigger discomfort as you must connect with something in yourself that knows what the other person is feeling. Empathy is not solving a problem for someone. Empathy is also not sympathy, it is not feeling sorry for someone. In fact, sympathy has the potential to drive disconnection. Sympathy is ‘I feel bad FOR you.’ Empathy is ‘I feel WITH you.’

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Beyond Empathy

Empathy is a choice. Everyone is born with various levels of empathetic capacity. However, it is a skill that may be developed and sharpened. Finding a way to connect with someone’s feelings offers a better understanding of the full story. Empathy is an informer of appropriate action. Dr. Kahut describes empathy as the psychological oxygen that fuels relationships. Truly understanding someone, their story, and gaining perspective drives the ability to place yourself in their shoes, helping to guide your actions.

When you think about those in your life, how well do you listen and demonstrate empathy? Do you feel like you have a deep understanding of their story? Do you feel WITH them? And do they feel WITH you? Do you feel heard? Do you feel like they understand YOUR story?

I am here. I am listening. Thank you for joining me on this journey as we discover the complexities of empathy in education together. 

Please click here to connect more…I would love to hear your feedback, questions, and your story!

About Sari Goldberg McKeown

Sari Goldberg McKeown is a lifelong learner. She believes education is about who we teach, not just about what we teach. Sari is passionate about culture, relationships, and learning from each other. She believes in the power of being a connected educator. As educators, we are better together! Sari has served as an educator in many K-12 roles for over fifteen years, including classroom teacher, literacy specialist, mentor, supervisor, and coordinator. Currently, Sari serves as a central office administrator and remote learning principal on Long Island, New York.

She is the co-founder and co-moderator of the #Read2Lead Twitter chat and Voxer group, co-founder of #UnitedWeLearn, and series contributor on the #MentorRoundTable webinar series. She is also honored to be a part of the EdCamp Long Island planning team. Currently, Sari is a doctoral student in the Ed.D. Educational Administration and Supervision program at St. John’s University. Sari is a proud wife to third grade teacher, Bob, and bonus mom to three amazing children.