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Through the lens of the creative process, the project reframes what empathy is, why it is valuable, and how it can be better realized, developed, and facilitated.

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Realizing empathy is the source of our creativity, growth, and dignity. It is what empowers us ‘to make,’ ‘to learn,’ and ‘to be.’

Our director was recently invited to give two TEDx talks. One at Wellesley College and another at Penn State University.

‘To make’ is to take on the challenge of engaging an other in an empathic conversation. An other we perceive as being separate from our ‘selves.’ An other we do not know. An other that can just as well be a fellow human being, as it could be a character in a story, a piece of raw material, or even your own body. These are all others we can make with, by realizing our empathy.

Our first book is now available. Click here for more information.

Realizing our empathy in relation to an other often requires that we make new, meaningful, and coherent relationships where there previously were none. This is a process also known as ‘making a bisociation’—in contrast to ‘making an association’—and forms the basis of what we often call creativity.

We were recently invited by Brown University to run a 2-day immersive workshop.

quotes from project director seung chan lim

On the Subjectivity of Empathizing

Empathizing is a subjective experience. The accuracy and precision with which we understand or embody an other can only be determined through verification, and no method can guarantee that we have embodied or understood an other 100%. Thus, humility is a virtue when it comes to realizing our empathy, and realizing empathy is best framed as an ongoing pursuit.

On the Specificity of the Moment

Contrary to popular belief, empathy is not something we either have lots of or lack. A far more precise way to model empathy would be to think of it as a 'relational potential' that gets realized if and only if a set of necessary and sufficient conditions are fulfilled at the moment of interface. For each and every one of us, there will always be moments when we will be unable to realize our empathy in relation to a certain other in a certain space through a certain language.

On Presence

Being in the presence of an other, listening, caring, and paying attention to their sincere expression of honesty is a privilege. It provokes you. It surprises you. It challenges you. It reminds you of what it means to be human. It is what gives us the courage to express our own sincere honesty.

On Self and Other

Empathy can empower us to blur the boundary between the self and other, such that what we normally call an ‘other’ feels like a part of our ‘self.’ But what may be non-obvious is that empathy is also useful when what we typically call ‘self’ feels like an ‘other’ that we cannot understand or fully embody. Thus, when it comes to talking about empathy, objective and static notions of ‘self’ and ‘other’ is less useful than a relational and dynamic one that changes from moment to moment.

On Design as Empathic Conversation

Design as empathic conversation does not aim to ‘fix,’ ‘change,’ or ‘get’ people to do things. It aims to provide a space in which we can empathize with all the participants involved in and affected by the design process, and to let the effects emerge as side effects. Side effects that include new knowledge, creativity, insight, innovation, maturation, connection, transformation, and beyond.

On Problem Solving

Many of us have been trained so well as problem solvers, that we perceive every conflict we encounter as a problem to be solved. Framing conflicts as problems assumes we know enough about it to frame it as such. In all other cases, conflicts are better framed as paradoxes that we do not yet understand.

On Humility and Courage

To engage an other in an empathic conversation, an other sufficiently different from one's self, is to be open to being changed by them. But rarely do we wish to change, because change brings about uncertainty, and uncertainty is perceived as risky and unstable. Thus, if you are not willing, if you do not embody a sufficient amount of humility and courage you will be unable to empathize with such an other.