objects of empathy
These last few weeks since the election I've been thinking a lot about empathy - where it's missing, how we can have more of it, why we develop it in the first place. There's a lot to think about, but it's interesting that we can have empathy for objects. First we anthropomorphize them, then we empathize with them. One of my favorite Billy Collins poems demonstrates this beautifully.
I can't help but associate it with this old Ikea ad that employs the same trick, then tries to undermine it. But I do feel sorry for the lamp. I can't help it!
Interestingly a lamp again features in the Pixar title sequence. What is it about lamps that makes them so human? Is our empathy triggered because they have a similar structure (head, neck, body, etc) or they give light so we are predisposed to like them?
What creates empathy anyway? Interestingly Merriam-Webster's first definition involves objects: "1. the imaginative projection of a subjective state into an object so that the object appears to be infused with it." while the second is the definition we think of more often these days: "2. the action of understanding, being aware of, being sensitive to, and vicariously experiencing the feelings, thoughts, and experience of another of either the past or present without having the feelings, thoughts, and experience fully communicated in an objectively explicit manner; also : the capacity for this."
A lot has been written about how we can increase empathy (this article from Greater Good is particularly interesting I think), but can objects help? What about architecture? Can we connect and create empathy through our common experience of places and objects? I think so. There's something powerful about our shared experience of the world. I remember a friend who visited Jon Stewart's house and send me a message saying "I looked in the shower and they use the same shampoo as me!" We're more similar than we are different. I've been trying to think about this over the holiday. All those people all over the country all eating turkey, regardless of their political persuasion. Let's make empathy great again.