Let’s start by being real. Creativity is not hard. Neither is empathy. They are both natural human impulses.
Watch what a child does when presented with crayons and paper and you’ll witness our creative nature in action. The way that child behaves toward a playmate in distress reveals our empathetic impulse.
What Is Creativity?
Creativity is simply the act of bringing something into the world that didn’t previously exist. Every time you make a meal, make a mess or make amends, you’ve engaged in an act of creation. Creativity is an everyday human activity.
In The Stoic Creative Handbook, I assert that creativity rises to artistry when we engage our creative capacity with a clear motivation, greater intention, and precise aspiration for a specific audience.
Art involves connecting, communicating, and collaborating with others. That’s where things start to get messy because emotional labor is involved. And that’s where empathy comes into play.
What Is Empathy?
Empathy is an important step (but not the final step), in a process for serving ourselves and others. Here’s a typical progression that leads to greater engagement and effectiveness.
Pity — You acknowledge suffering.
Sympathy — You care about whoever is suffering.
Empathy — You feel and understand the suffering.
Compassion — You are moved to alleviate or prevent the suffering.
Employing Creativity and Empathy
Creativity is a tool, and art is a process. That process is fraught with challenges, failures, and frustrations because it happens with and for others. How does one flourish through this? By employing empathy; first with ourselves, and then with others.
But real problems arise when we conflate terms. Art employs creativity, but not every creative impulse is art. Art requires embracing feedback and failure and this takes real empathy.
“They’re not paying attention.” “They don’t appreciate me.” “Why don’t they get it?” These aren’t expressions of self-empathy made by artists, they are expressions of pity made by amateurs unwilling to acknowledge that you are only entitled to the work, not the fruits of your labor.
When an artist employs empathy, they maintain a mindset of curiosity and a posture of discovery when faced with adversity. They embrace feedback and failure because it reveals a path to improvement. An artist who employs empathy, first with themselves and then towards others, develops art of greater significance and more powerful connection.
Want to elevate and enhance yourself and those you seek to serve? Understand what creativity and empathy are for and then employ them properly.