"Seventy-five years ago, the German philosopher Martin Buber wrote, "Empathy means to glide with one's own feeling into the dynamic structure of an object, a pillar, or a crystal or the branch of a tree, or even an animal or a man, and as it were to trace it from within, understanding the formation and motoriality (Bewegtheit) of the object with perceptions of one's own muscles: it means to 'transpose' oneself over there and in there."" (Root-Bernstein, 186)






We can relate to the "troubles" of this dog, even though it is just a simple commercial about a dog with a bone. We can understand his worries about the unknowns in life. We are always looking for ways to protect the things we care most about. Advertising plays on our natural tendency to empathize with the objects and creatures around us. If the subject is something we have lived or suggests something we have lived, such as worrying about the things we care about, we can feel a kinship to it. We are more likely to have a positive response to it and maybe even purchase what is being sold.






Sometimes the advertisers even poke fun at our ridiculous need to empathize with inanimate objects, as was done in this Ikea ad. The simple composition of music, movement and lighting, has made you feel bad for an old lamp that is being replaced by the new one. Why? Because we form connections based on our own fears, past experiences, and emotional reactions. Empathy is not always logical or purposely achieved. When it is, you can be left with masterpieces.

Think about the great literature, dances, discoveries and art that have come from empathy. Truman Capote revolutionized non-fiction with In Cold Blood. He didn't just record the events; he got within the minds of those effected and allowed the audience to truly empathize with the townspeople, the investigators, and most shockingly, the murderers. Capote allowed readers to empathize with the murderers by giving the first hand account of the killings and each boy's past. You walked in their shoes, you felt their pain. Through his writing, you could hate one while feeling for the boy who actually pulled the trigger. It was truly an emotional roller coaster.

Role-play was the most highly recommended means of learning to empathize. The book offered many examples of ways in which you could really get to know a subject by studying it closely and trying to think like it or follow its needs. They suggested animal study and even trying to find camera lenses or footage of animals shot through their own perspective. Even great hunters study the tendencies and behaviors of the animals in order to make the kill. Cave drawings and oral stories suggest the importance of relating to the animal in tribal communities. Having respect for the animal was thought to make you a better hunter. Empathy is not limited to animals.

Many tools and ways in which people examine non-living subjects were explored as well. Famous inventors such as Alexander Graham Bell were thought to role-play in order to really understand the workings of pistons and other machinery. Construction workers explained that they had to be one with their machines to fully maneuver them. History can often be better understood when reenacted. Literature and the characters within it can be explored through acting and practicing to write about elements of the story from other character's perspectives. Really examining something and trying to get within its "skin" allows you to really understand and ultimately empathize with it.