Turning Empathy Into Action

In challenging times, it's up to us to get creative and use our compassion to give back.


I’ve recently been thinking a lot about the difference between empathy and compassion, especially how each affects people as they navigate the ups and downs of life.

According to an article written by Sara Schairer on the Chopra Center website, empathy means feeling what other people feel and sympathy means understanding what other people are feeling. In comparison, compassion is when you feel the pain of another (empathy) or you recognize that the person is in pain (sympathy) and then you do your best to alleviate the person’s suffering.

The powerful thing about compassion is that it gives you the ability to recharge, whereas people that work in empathy have a tendency to experience what is know as empathy fatigue.

Over the past few years, my team and I have practiced a lot of empathy in our work with human-centered design. (You can download our toolkit here to learn more about it.) Interestingly, after doing ethnographic research where we empathized with people for days at a time, I was always exhausted. Now I know why.

In early 2020, I decided that generosity (the mindset and act of giving freely to others) would become one of the three areas of focus for my personal and professional life. When the pandemic began disrupting normal life and our collective anxieties soared, it became clear that #disruptivegiving (giving boldly in ways that push each of us to think differently) needed to be our focus for the month of April. Throughout this month of giving, I’ve seen and heard some powerful things taking place within our team and our tribe of disruptors.

So, what do empathy and compassion have to do with #disruptivegiving and generosity? This quote from Mindvalley explains it best: “If empathy is the great connector, compassion is the bridge between emotion and action.”

If empathy is the feeling that ignites us and compassion is the catalyst that moves us to action, we are naturally led to live in a mindset generosity and #disruptivegiving. Imagine the difference we can make in the world if enough people truly move into action!

With that said, we are going to continue our movement of #disruptivegiving for the month of May and, well, who knows for how long after that.

As a tribe of disruptors, let’s turn our empathy into action and then take everything up a notch. What can you do this week to be more generous in more creative ways? How might you push yourself and those around you to think bigger and bolder about giving in ways that may even make you a bit uncomfortable?

Let’s get out there and set the world on fire!

Your TruthTeller –

Shawn “Man On Fire” Nason

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