Top TED talks to nurture your empathy

There’s no doubt that to really care about development issues requires a certain level of empathy. Empathy means having an understanding of another person’s feelings and experiences. Human experiences are at the core of development issues, and most often that empathy turns into a drive to act and do something about the issues in the world.

But what if, as is quite common, empathy levels are drained as we are repeatedly exposed to the horrors of the world? I recommend taking some time out to recharge, and take a look at these short videos that are bound to revitalise your empathy once again.

1. Sam Richards: A radical experiment in empathy

In this talk, sociologist Sam Richards experiments with the audience in an attempt to inspire their inner empathy. He argues that if we view world affairs with an empathetic lens, we can have a greater understanding of development, poverty, conflict and the world. This is one of the more inspiring talks on the list, which is less of the analytical, and more of the human side of development.

2. Ash Beckham: We’re all hiding something. Let’s find the courage to open up

In this talk Beckham emotively describes the feelings of living in a closet and hiding one’s inner secrets; be that you’re bankrupt, you’re gay, you love someone, or that you have cancer. She argues that closets are no place for humans, and that we all have closets that we need to step out of. If we can start to recognise others closets, and meet people where they are, than we can truly connect with them on an empathetic level and have a greater understanding of their perspective.

3. Andy Puddicombe: All it takes is 10 mindful minutes

Mindfulness is the concept of paying attention in a particular way to the present moment. In this talk Andy Puddicombe (creator of the app ‘Headspace’) explains how important it is to cultivate mindfulness in daily life. Mindfulness is often linked to ethics and compassion, as it is thought that if one is mindful of others, they will better understand their position. Thus, they will be more empathetic to their feelings and experiences. The benefits of compassion are enormous, and therefore it should be a part of our everyday actions and lives.

4. Joan Halifax: Compassion and the true meaning of empathy

I recommend watching this video after watching the mindfulness video above. This talk discusses the depth of empathy needed for compassion. Compassion is not pity, or sympathy, it is a strength to feel with someone without feeling a connection to a particular outcome. Halifax argues this compassion must be cultivated, and there is evidence that mindfulness is one tool for this. Furthermore Halifax argues that compassion must step outside of meditation and become action.

5. Chris Milk: how virtual reality can create the ultimate empathy machine

This talk brings the concept of empathy into the 21st century. Milk discusses the power of virtual reality in making world leaders understand the people that their decisions will affect. He argues that politicians can no longer pretend not to see the poorest people in the world, as seeing them is as simple as putting on a virtual reality helmet and experiencing their lives. If this technology became mainstream in places like the United Nations there’s no doubt that empathy would play a greater role in politics of the future.

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