Empathy is Foundational During Our Current Uncertainty


By Allison Zmuda, Bena Kallick and Art Costa

Empathy is a foundational part of healing from the political and social issues we are currently facing.

Empathy can also be a response to a joyful experience. This newsletter focuses on the powerful experience people have experienced when they have been listened to with understanding and empathy.

Although we know that the other person cannot feel the pain of another person’s experience, when they listen to us deeply, we can take a step toward healing, often leading us to feeling more hopeful. It is the authentic intention that gets transmitted. Peter Senge (The Fifth Discipline Fieldbook, 1994) clarified:

To listen fully means to pay close attention to what is being said beneath the words. You listen not only for what someone knows, but for what he or she is. Generative listening is the art of developing deeper silences in yourself, so you can slow your mind’s hearing to your ears’ natural speed and hear beneath the words to their meaning.

Listening with understanding (cognitive inferences) and empathy (emotional inferences) are complex and interdependent skills that always focus on the other person before trying to share your own thinking.

  • ArtBena, and Allison crafted a post to further explore the importance of empathy, a skill that is often overlooked. Oftentimes, we tend to make cognitive inferences on what the other is saying rather than keeping the spotlight on checking to understand and pay attention to what the other is feeling.
  • First grade teachers, Lisa Bradley and Jaime Crane at North Canaan Elementary School, help students express empathy through a compassion project. This post describes how their “Blankets and Bones” compassion project last year came about and how it provided a source of comfort both to the dogs in the shelter as well as the students in the classroom. They share how they continue to do the work with their students during pandemic times.
  • The Habits of Mind animation on listening with understanding and empathy provided a rich example for the first grade students in North Canaan to learn what empathy looks like, feels like, and sounds like.
  • High school teacher Jennifer Norman reflects on her personal experience with empathy to heighten her awareness of the need for empathy for her students.
  • Many of us were emotionally moved by Amanda Gorman’s inauguration poem. As the three of us shared our reactions, we thought it would be powerful to invite you into the discussion. Head to this padlet to identify the lines in the poem that contributed to your understanding and empathic reaction.


Allison Zmuda
Twitter: @allison_zmuda
LinkedIn: Allison Zmuda
Bena Kallick
Twitter: @benakallick
LinkedIn: Bena Kallick
Art Costa


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