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Behavior & Culture

Seattle: Shelve Intolerance and Develop Radical Empathy

December 12, 2016
celeste headless Seattle TED Talk

Celeste Headlee is a media industry veteran who’s TEDTalk on communication became one of the most viewed videos this year due to its raw truth about how we have almost lost the ability to effectively talk to one another today. During her TEDxSeattle talk this year, she applied her understanding of having conversations to the current state of our society as we near the end of 2016 and hesitantly welcome in a new president. When she took the stage early, she asked her Seattleite audience:

 How Did We Get Here?

The question stemmed from two things – this year’s election results that sent the media into turmoil and to the larger question of why the election ended the way it did. Headlee pointed out that the election results were not what we should be focusing on; we in fact need to be focusing on the state of our communities. Why? Because she feels that our society has become so disconnected from one another and is completely blind to what is actually happening in our own backyard. Headlee cut into our souls when she said:

As a society, we HATE each other because we DON’T KNOW each other. We disagree with people. We’ve become tribes, and now we are at war. We’ve isolated ourselves to our own race and separated ourselves from people who look and think differently than we do. We need to be more tolerant and work hard to get to know one another once again. Tolerance asks that us accept someone else’s existence and beliefs. And in order to become tolerant, we have to learn how to have greater empathy for one another.

According to Headlee, the most effective way to develop and boost empathy is to listen to strangers. By walking in their shoes, we enable ourselves to learn about their lives – how they take on challenges, what they love and fear. From there, we can start to understand them just a little bit better. Hearing opposing opinions is uncomfortable, but we can evolve. We have to talk each other. In order to do this, she believes we:

  1. Shouldn’t try to educate someone or change their mind. If we do this, it will backfire. When someone believes something and we attempt to change their beliefs with facts, they will only believe stronger.
  2. Shouldn’t try and prejudge someone. We must talk with someone about their beliefs without blame, denial or judgment. We also must listen. 
  3. Need to show some respect. People are not the politicians they vote for. We don’t know what it is like to be them, and they do not know what it is like to be us.
  4. Need to stick to difficult conversations. We should not walk off when things get heated or uncomfortable, we must listen and wait to respond. Asking better questions towards resolutions.

In order to repair the barriers that are breaking our country apart, society as a whole has to find ways back to civility. Education and understanding will show us that people are not stereotypes and they are better than we think. Can we find inspiration and optimism in others? Yes, but we have to see people as people, not politics and propaganda.

Often when you think you are at the end of things, you at the beginning of something else – Mr. Rogers