Empathy: An Aggregate of Personal Truths

“our capacity for empathy is as much the result of our experience and practice as it is of our genetic makeup.” ~ Alisa Del Tufo

I typically share a simple question with people I am working with regarding empathy:

Is empathy a skill?

A closed question, so a simple one right? Maybe this question breaks those rules apart. It is simple in structure and yet beguilingly complex to ponder. Del Tufo [1] answers it pretty well in my opinion. Our ability to empathise with others can be practiced, the skill of it can be refined through the use of various tools and thinking frameworks to help us. However there is still something at a deeper level we rely upon.

During a recent workshop with a school in Melbourne we discussed this very same question. Through our dialogue we explored the concept that we could never completely understand what the experience and perspective is of someone else. Walking in someone else’s shoes is as elusive as someone walking in our own.

With only a partial understanding realistically within our grasp, we explored how empathy is perhaps more about forming an understanding that is closer to someone else’s truth. However the truth we create ourselves is likely to be an aggregate of our own experiences, thoughts and emotions. Our own truths.

The empathy we have is an aggregate of our own truths.

Del Tufo explains that, “We learn empathy when we experience connectedness and surface shared values.” I think this is in small aggregated pieces, rarely do we have exactly the same experience to draw from, the complexity of our bias (and life) prohibits this in many ways. It is more a mosaic of experience we build that helps us connect with others, find common ground and shared values.


  1. Can We Teach Empathy? – Voice of Witness, 2015  ↩

Tom Barrett

Tom is a writer, speaker and consultant. He has been sharing his thoughts on teaching, learning, curiosity and creativity on this blog for over 10 years. Drinking coffee and writing would be his idea of a perfect day.

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About Tom Barrett 552 Articles
Tom is a writer, speaker and consultant. He has been sharing his thoughts on teaching, learning, curiosity and creativity on this blog for over 10 years. Drinking coffee and writing would be his idea of a perfect day.

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