How to develop empathy

The world has been a good place to live, only because there is empathy. Whether it is India or some other country, there are hundreds of thousands of people who voluntarily render services to mankind virtually free of cost. How do we develop the art of empathy and emulate them? This article is an attempt to discuss some nuances of developing empathy.


Empathy simply means putting ourselves into the shoes of the other person and then realizing his or her situation or problem, as if it were our own problem. For example, when we see a very old and infirm beggar on the road, the process of empathy will be complete only when we refer him to any home that would volunteer to take care of him. Giving him ten rupees is sympathy. It is not empathy.

The art of developing empathy is a deeply emotional process. It comes with training right from childhood. The child always learns from his or her parents. There is evidence that attitudes get formed before the age of five. However, there is always scope for further learning. More specifically, the process of understanding and developing empathy for others involves a) Observing selfless work being done by others b) Learning by becoming a volunteer c) Devoting time and energy d) Spreading the good word/walking the talk and e) Ensuring continuity of the process.

Observing selfless work being done by others

There is so much of good happening all around us. It is not that the world is full of corrupt politicians alone. It is not that the world does not have good people who always look forward to contributing their might to society. In this context, one should just take off to the nearest orphanage or old age home. One can always see even IT professionals spending time with the inmates, educating the children, talking to them about homework, sharing jokes and so on.

Service does not mean only giving money. It is also important that money is spent for good causes. For example, there is a gentleman called Krishnamoorthy who decided to do something for the very poor people who would come to the Cancer Institute, Adayar, Chennai, for treatment. Apart from pooling resources to help the poor receive at least some part of the costly treatment, Mr. Krishnamoorthy took on the mantle of forming a trust called Mata Trust. Today, this trust is a beacon of hope for the very poor patients who are accommodated in the same premises, given food and cared for till their death. Some survive, many don't. But the huge satisfaction comes from the service rendered. This trust receives contributions that have the section 80(G) exemption. Every single pie is accounted for. In fact, the motivation to do this service came from the great saint of Kanchi Kamakoti Peetam, called Mahaperiyavaa. This seer is seen as an avatar of God by billions. He was also instrumental in the setting up of the world-famous Sankara Nethralaya Eye Hospital, Chennai, which is now the hope for millions for quality eye care.

One needs to just observe how others do it. The work may even mean the smallest thing like reading out a letter received from one's son in an old age home. This is also empathy. It could well be the starting point.

Learning by becoming a volunteer

This is important. Once you become a volunteer, it is quite natural that you would have an interest in doing something solid. It might mean getting involved in the evenings too. It might mean getting into good acts like running the Marathons. This can also help a great deal.

Getting involved in doing voluntary work such as cleaning a road or a particular dirty locality can have a spin-off in terms of roping in others to do the task as well. The NSS units attached to colleges can also be useful in providing some information about avenues to get involved as a volunteer on the weekends.

Devoting time and energy

Developing empathy for others is not a one-off affair. It is not something that can be done just once. It does require at least one hour of devoted time on the weekends and the physical involvement as well. There are so many Corporate organizations that also require volunteers to execute their Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) projects. By devoting some time and energy to source such organizations and then getting involved is a big ask. But the effort is worth the salt. At the end of the day, you are bound to become a far better person with a very high level of emotional intelligence.

Spreading the good word/Walking the Talk

This is also very important. While one need not boast about any small work done, the process of developing empathy is complete only when others are involved too. They could be residents of the same apartment complex. They could be colleagues at the office.

It is important to convince them. It will also ensure that someone is there to do the task. There will be emergencies even in the office. Someone in the family may be sick. In such situations, there will be someone to substitute for us and the work can be done.

Developing empathy also means extending that to good causes. Even planting of a huge number of trees within the area surrounding the bus stands might mean that we are contributing to something very useful instead of just talking about protection of the environment. It is simply called walking the talk.

There are many who educate children on the need to be clean. There are some colleges where the students themselves volunteer to do the cleaning work. These are the people who should be encouraged at all times. There are others who are very serious about getting into the act in a big way. These are the individuals from whom we can always learn so much about empathy.

Ensuring continuity of the process

Two bankers, who were well set in doing commendable work in educating very poor Government children in both Mathematics and spoken English skills in the heart of Coimbatore city, realized that they would be transferred in three years. They roped in other volunteers from a good college and the continuity was ensured. In particular, the coaching was made to the tenth standard students who needed some special coaching to score very good marks in the State Board Public Examination. In this fashion, the school was always assured of some help or the other. If we do a similar thing, we can rest assured that our empathy journey would have taken some shape.


Those who are not well off and those who need help in some form or the other can receive very good help, only if we try to develop the process of empathy. This is not a simple thing at all. However, if we keep on trying we would have made commendable progress.

The time to start is now.

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Author: Reena Upadhya19 Jan 2019 Member Level: Diamond   Points : 4

It is extremely important to develop empathy as it is an entity which possesses soothing power. It is more like a healing agent. If we need to fill the gap, empathy acts as a glue. It binds two people and two nations together irrespective of the kind of circumstances that are prevailing. Such is its binding power and such is its magic. Thus, it is often referred to as superglue.

Small steps taken in the process can help us to develop the skills of empathy within us. The first step starts with the development of compassion for the people around us. Also, we need to develop empathy for ourselves. All of us have some amount of empathy within us but the level varies greatly. Most of the times we are self-centered and want the whole attention. Thus, we do not give importance to the sense of empathy that is already present within us.

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