Can Empathy Be Taught?

My friend Jackie Acho works from a passion for making empathy more visible and figural in how people help their children and employees grow. We talked today about whether empathy can be taught, a question more poignant in the now evidence supported reality that people decline in empathy as they move up in the hierarchy of organizations.

In my experience with executive coaching I have absolutely seen people make the transition from low level empathy to good enough levels. It takes skillful presence for sure, and I'm not sure it could be programmatically structured in a specific pedagogy, but it happens. The learning is possible to provoke and cultivate. I would suggest that there are demographics that would resist empathy at all costs because empathy would require of them completely unacceptable levels of existential guilt that underpins the essential vulnerability of empathy.

In empathy, we feel what others feel without accepting the obligation to fix everything. We feel drawn to the sacred space of validating the deep narrative of the other. This is empathy. And it can be learned and cultivated to an art form.