My New Year's resolution: Empathy

To some, Atwood has the ability to place her finger on the pulse when it comes to capturing our anxiety about the future of our planet. However on that day, perhaps in the spirit of the holiday season, she recommended a book on empathy as a hopeful suggestion for imagining a better tomorrow.  Yes, empathy. Not doom and gloom depictions of environmental catastrophe, but rather a subject that is arguably the most common human trait between us.
In its simplest form, empathy involves the ability to develop an understanding of the emotional state of the others that creates a desire to help them. The human capacity to imagine oneself as the person standing before them is a truly powerful one. If we take this one step further and apply the empathetic relationship to our natural world, we can start to see some of the central challenges underpinning the fight against climate change. Tom Crompton of WWF UK takes this to task in his report, Common Cause: The case for working with our cultural values. We talk a lot about value: what it brings to our work, how it will benefit our work, and how it will benefit our reputation. But we don’t always take the time to understand the common values we share with one another, and what they hold for understanding ourselves in relation to the work we do towards bettering this planet. Crompton believes common values are essential to feel concern for future generations. This starts with developing empathy towards those “who are facing the effects of humanitarian and environmental crises, and the recognition that human prosperity resides in relationships.”  It is as good a starting point as any.
These are crucial steps that start at the cognitive level, and I confess not easy ones. Moving from me to we takes time and there remain more questions than answers as to how we realize empathy. When it comes to reconciling our relationship with the planet, empathy is a tool to strengthen this process. However, it’s not something we can learn overnight. It requires a personal challenge. With this in mind, I encourage you to tackle empathy as a challenging, yet necessary, New Year’s resolution. Ask yourself, do I need to rediscover my place in nature and the people within it?
We need adaptation to reduce climate risk, increase resilience, and build community to protect ourselves so we can protect others. Empathy helps keep this value chain together. Let’s start by taking Atwood up on her New Year’s reading suggestion.

(c) McClelland