Empathy Conference: Online Video Platform

An ongoing online video conference platform to raise the level of empathy in society

“The survival of the planet as we know it depends on global compassion… I would start a Manhattan Project on global empathy. It has the urgency of the Manhattan Project. It needs the bringing together of the best minds in the world to focus on this issue, because there is an urgency to it…time is running out. We can’t wait 20 or 40 years to figure out what to do with this problem.” — Paul Ekman

We live in a time when the survival of the planet and humanity is in question. Fear, greed, conflict, alienation, pain, suffering, and rampant, self-interested competition eat away at our society, our hearts, and our souls. What are we to do?

“Empathy is a universal solvent. Any problem immersed in empathy becomes soluble.” — Simon Baron-Cohen

Our project and vision is to bring together some of the best minds, as well as the biggest hearts, to build a movement for raising the global level of empathy and compassion. We are doing this by developing an online video conferencing platform which will serve as a dynamic engine of dialogue, networking, creativity and empathic action. As we have asked people how to build a culture of empathy, one suggestion was to create a national and world-wide dialogue about it. So that’s what we are doing by holding this global conference on “How Can We Build a Culture of Empathy and Compassion”?

An essential part of the project is to create a conference platform which bolts together, and builds upon, existing internet technologies. We are currently interviewing empathy experts from around the world and then organizing them into panel discussions which are held, and viewed, online. Our engine is already running and 70+ experts have been interviewed to date. Interviews include people from all walks of life and disciplines, including scientists, academics, and educators like Marco Iacoboni, Frans De Waal, Simon Baron-Cohen, Paul Ekman, James Doty, Dan Batson, Mary Gordon, Leah Green, Huston Smith, Kristin Neff, etc. So far we’ve recorded 10 panels, and more interviews and panels are being held on an almost daily basis.

How does the conference address 1440’s values and needs?

1. Five Elements
A. Four Basic Relationship Skills
The conference promotes all four basic relationship skills of self-awareness, authenticity, trust, and empathy. First it’s focused on promoting empathy. The other 3 skills can be seen as being part of the empathy process. It is helpful to first layout our working definition of empathy and then show how the skills relate to it.

Generally, empathy is defined as the metaphor of standing in someone else’s shoes, or seeing the world through other peoples’ eyes. Drilling down a bit deeper, empathy has four parts;

Self-Empathy — Mindfulness and sensory awareness of our own internal feelings and internal state. Many practices like the arts, meditation, mindfulness, sensory awareness, yoga, to name but a view, foster this.

Mirrored Empathy — This is also called emotional contagion, emotional, or affective empathy. It is sensing the feelings of others via mirror neurons, and experiencing those feelings as being reflected within ourselves and then finally having them reflected back to us by others. Mutually seeing, hearing, and feeling each other.

Imaginative Empathy — This is perspective and role-taking of others, also called cognitive empathy.

Empathic Action — When we connect deeply with others, we share a common experience and see our common humanity. When we do this, we’re biologically wired to want to creatively contribute to the well-being of others. We want to double their joy and mitigate their suffering.

How Empathy Relates;
Self-empathy starts with Self-Awareness — What’s going on in our bodies? What is our sensory awareness of how we feel? So self-awareness is the starting point, and perhaps a prerequisite for creating an empathic connection.

Authenticity — Sometimes it takes courage to be authentic in the face of being judged, demeaned, threatened, analyzed, fixed, competed with, etc. In an empathy-rich environment, where one is heard, where presence is not withheld but generously offered, it’s easy and natural to authentically share our feelings. We naturally want to authentically share with each other.

Trust — Trust can be seen as coming from experience, knowing that someone will empathize with your values and needs in the present and future. It comes partly out of having experienced empathy from someone in the past.

So, if we build a culture of empathy, we build a culture of self-awareness, trust, and authenticity.

B. Areas
The conference applies to the broad question of how to build a culture of empathy and starts zooming in and looking for ways to transform education, curriculum, wellness, workplace, and much more. We have sub-conferences focusing on how empathy can transform each of these areas. Each of these areas can be transformed from fear-based, competitive models to empathic, trust- and relationship-building models of being.

A major area is empathy curriculum development. The conference creates a systematic framework and foundation for curriculum development. We are interviewing worldwide empathy educators and curriculum experts and networking them into panel discussions on building the Free Empathy Curriculum.

For example, Lisbeth Holter Brudal, from Norway, who has a 40-hour Norwegian Empathic Communication training curriculum for teachers and health professionals, has been inspired to work with us to reach an international English audience. We have many stories like this.

Sub-conferences include;
Curriculum http://j.mp/KEaWLk
Education http://j.mp/JNDbGl
Justice (conflict resolution) http://j.mp/Jz7lk9
Science http://j.mp/L0QNlt
Arts http://j.mp/KYoDn2 Workplace http://j.mp/Kssiwt
Healthcare http://j.mp/N98AoS
Interfaith http://j.mp/LD9rLP
Compassionate Communication http://j.mp/KQZoVi
Common Humanity Values http://j.mp/KQYPL7

The themes can become ever more granular and focused as we continue to move through and explore each of them. We are also stimulating interdisciplinary dialogues and collaboration by holding panels which bring these different communities together.

C. Mobilizing Authentic Connections.
This question seems to refer to how empathic action takes place. We can bring people together by creating the framework for face-to-face video dialogue, presence, connection, and interaction. Participants and viewers share stories, ideas, research, insights, feelings, values, needs, hopes and dreams…which generates empathic action into a vision of a culture of empathy. From these connections, creative ideas and actions naturally develop. Interviewees, viewers, and friends are starting to propose, schedule, and produce even more panels. All kinds of new, interpersonal connections are being created.

D. Technology to Reach a Wide Audience + Ease of Use
We are weaving together, and continuously integrating, new and existing technology such as Skype Video, Google Hangouts, Youtube, Website, Facebook, Google+, Causes, etc. We keep automating and simplifying the processes and are producing more focused panel topics. The panel format, or structure, will transform into other forms like empathy, listening circles, mediation circles, conflict resolution circles, workshops, project workgroups, empathic action groups, etc. An example is the Free Empathy Curriculum Project group http://j.mp/KEaWLk which meets via Skype, with over 1,000 people signed up to support the project.

2. Similar Efforts
While there are various empathy and compassion conferences and symposia around the world, they tend to use typical in-person meeting format. They are also not focused on movement building and tend not to be interdisciplinary. We are offering to partner with each of these conferences and symposiums to interview their presenters and create dialogue space for them online.

3. Budget
The conference is underway and a grant will add fuel to help us shift into second gear. We can scale up the project and build a paid, core team which will each specialize in producing and facilitating sub-conferences on education, curriculum development, arts, justice, workplace, healthcare, science, etc.

Management (4k)
Technologist (3k)

Sub Conference Coordinators (3k each)
Curriculum Development
Arts and Science

4. Brief Bio
Lead is Edwin Rutsch, founding director of the Center for Building a Culture of Empathy
Bio: http://j.mp/JJ56r7

Center for Building a Culture of Empathy: the internet’s largest website for resources about empathy http://cultureofempathy.com

Conference Website: http://j.mp/KGlB8O

5. External Validation
70+ empathy experts have enthusiastically taken part.
10 panels to date http://j.mp/KGmFJE
250 conference volunteers http://j.mp/AuuFlY
There have been 55,000 signups for our social media groups —
i.e. Facebook Empathy Center Page (6k), Causes: Empathy (17k), Animals (26k), Children (3k), Nature (2k), Curriculum (1k), LGBT (1k).

In Conclusion
Let us build the Empathy Movement together. Whether or not we win the 1440 Challenge, we invite all entrants to take part in the conference and moderate panel discussions on how their work and projects foster building a worldwide culture of empathy. We will host, record, upload, and promote these panels to our list of social media supporters. We also invite 1440 staff to host thematic panel discussions about how their most important personal values, such as authenticity, self-awareness, trust, courage, love, etc. each relate to building a culture of empathy.

The engine is going, we’re excited to get everyone on board, and we’re looking forward to shifting everyone’s efforts into a higher gear…together.

“See the world through other people’s eyes. You know, empathy is a quality of character that can change the world.” — Barack Obama