- Tue, October 04 2011
- Filed under: Marketing essentials
Photo courtesy of BigStockPhoto.
David Brooks had an interesting recent New York Times column on the limits of empathy, prompting over 200 very lively comments.
Here was the gist of it:
“Empathy makes you more aware of other people’s suffering, but it’s not clear it actually motivates you to take moral action or prevents you from taking immoral action… People who actually perform pro-social action don’t only feel for those who are suffering, they feel compelled to act by a sense of duty. Their lives are structured by sacred codes… religious, military, social or philosophic. The code isn’t just a set of rules. It’s a source of identity. It’s pursued with joy. It arouses the strongest emotions and attachments. Empathy is a sideshow.”
Here is my take.
1. People are empathetic. Their brains are wired for it.
2. But Brooks is right - they don’t act upon that innate capacity for generosity just because they are empathetic. I agree they have to be called to act—in a compelling way.
3. It’s our job to make that link. We need to align our cause with people’s deeply held emotions and values, so their capacity to care turns into true action.
Empathy makes our job easier, but it doesn’t do our work for us. It is a wonderful starting point.
As a wise person once told me, don’t tell people to value your cause. Show how your cause relates to their values. Then you have their attention - and inspire their action.