The popularity of The School of Life’s Symposium on Empathy in Australia, held at Melbourne Town Hall on Wednesday 24th of February, revealed how current the theme of ’empathy’ is to a generation that are often accused of narcissism. The 2,000-plus audience demonstrated through social media coverage and bums on seats that we are very much collectively concerned with social justice and humanitarian interests. Hot on the heels of launching a School of Life in Sydney, the enormity of the event and support from from a myriad of sectors (presented in association with The Guardian, Wired For Wonder, The Conversation, and Dumbo Feather) showed that there is very much a hunger for events that will get you thinking and challenge your preconceptions.
For me, the most exciting part about the symposium was witnessing the interactive discourse between six panelists representing a wide cross section of life experiences and view points, all exceptional in their fields. The panel, hosted by author and empathy expert Roman Krznaric, included Julian Burnside AO QC (recipient of the Sydney Peace Prize and advocate of asylum seekers), Dr Susan Carland (PhD, lecturer, and researcher on gender, sociology, politics, and the Australian Muslim experience), Tara Moss (author, TV presenter, and UNICEF Ambassador advocating for the rights of women and children), Chris Judd (former professional AFL footballer and father) and Deborah Cheetham AO (Yorta Yorta woman, soprano, composer, and educator).
The event dedicated time to answering questions posed by the audience via Twitter. It wrapped up with each panelist offering practical tips on how best we can exercise our capacity for empathy in our daily lives to better our communities and Australia. There was a consensus that empathy is most accessible when we remember to look at each other and think that despite everything, ‘that person is a person just like me’. We can exercise our empathetic muscles by putting ourselves in another person’s shoes, and practice this by deliberately challenging our viewpoint, whether it be by listening to the opinion of someone we don’t particularly like, or changing the channel of our radio or TV to something we wouldn’t usually listen to or watch.
The audience was left with a challenge. Empathy is a choice. On the understanding that we collectively affect the world around us with the accumulation of our small daily choices, ask yourself: What choices are we going to make differently?
Emmanuella Grace is a Singer, Songwriter and Voice and Performance Coach, currently based in Melbourne she has lived in France, England and Norway, loves wine, cheese, cats and a good debate.
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