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The Transformative Power of Empathy & Compassion



Can cities become sustainable without building on Empathy and Compassion? What is the role of the human factor and human values and emotions in the transformation of societies, administrations and decision-making when implementing our local policy and global goals? Can Empathy and Compassion as two interrelated aspects of our human emotions help reduce discrimination and segregation, face challenges together, and contribute to resolving institutional and political conflicts?


What opportunities do Empathy and Compassion offer? Let us debate!


While we often address the role of institutions, economies, governance and behaviours in localising the sustainability and climate agendas, we often forget or underestimate the essential element; human Empathy. Today, several fields have started to acknowledge the central role of Empathy, from education to administration, arbitration and others. The crucial role of Compassion in Leadership has been addressed and acknowledged in recent years.


The Cambridge Dictionary defines Empathy as 'the ability to share someone else's feelings or experiences by imagining what it would be like to be in that person's situation.' Psychology Today defines Compassion as 'an empathic understanding of a person's feelings, accompanied by a desire to act on that person's behalf.'

To be empathetic and compassionate, we need to know ourselves better, challenge ourselves, stand in other people's shoes and see issues, challenges and opportunities through other people's and communities' lenses, understanding their vulnerabilities, and how they perceive futures and hope. While it is still to discuss how Empathy can overcome bias, since many tend to empathise with those similar to themselves, Compassion is seen as important to initiate kindness, acceptance and responsiveness towards those who do not particularly relate to us (Hill, 2021). Empathy and Compassion seem to embody enormous values, including building self resilience and wellbeing especially when thinking global human issues as sustainability or as Hill (2021) suggests navigating post-traumatic growth more effectively.


Capitalising effectively on Empathy and Compassion requires cognitive, emotional and communication skills and efforts building on the Power of Imagination to understand where other people/communities stand, the Power of Openness to listen actively and be inclusive and collaborative, the Power of Knowledge to bring together informed local and global perspectives.


These are kick-off thoughts. There are plenty of opportunities to explore related to these issues and we are still at the beginning.


@Roudaina Al Khani


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