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April 3, 2007 » 4:51 pm

Authentic Empathy and Trust

The Kathy Sierra fiasco seems to have reached a nice conclusion. There was plenty of thought-provoking discussion and some personal bridging between the parties involved. Perhaps this will catalyze a higher-level discourse on the Web. Even a microscopic improvement is better than nothing.    (M2X)

I don’t know the parties involved personally, although in this business, you’re two degrees away from everyone. I was also in the middle of work hell when the madness started. Yet somehow, I found myself following the various threads closely. I was especially struck by Lisa Stone‘s analysis (including a mention of BlogHer‘s community guidelines) and Min Jung Kim‘s commentary.    (M2Y)

Empathy, diversity, and humanity are values that are core to me and my business. It’s easy to toss these words around without really thinking about what they mean or, more importantly, without living them. For whatever reason, this particular incident struck a chord and reminded me of several stories, including one that happened a few weeks ago.    (M2Z)

I was having lunch with my friend, Nick, who was describing his short-lived Second Life experience. Nick is a public interest lawyer, but he spent many years in technology, and he’s not naive about these things. However, he doesn’t spend eight hours a day in front of a computer either.    (M30)

A colleague convinced him to try Second Life, so he logged in and started exploring. Almost immediately, someone approached him and handed him a penis. Nick was not amused (then), and he couldn’t figure out how to get rid of it. That was the end of his Second Life experiment.    (M31)

We both got a good laugh out of the story. However, I couldn’t help wondering how a woman — especially one who had previously experienced sexual assault — would have reacted under the same circumstances, despite the fact that none of this was technically “real.” I know I certainly wouldn’t have been laughing in that situation.    (M32)

Truth is contextual. Is it possible to make misogynistic or racial comments without being a misogynist or a racist? I’m certain the answer is yes, but it’s a tricky line to walk. I’ve laughed at Asian jokes told by some (sometimes even me), and I’ve been miffed by the same jokes told by others. Am I a hypocrite, or is there something truly different about those two situations? The difference is trust. I trust that certain people are not racist, and hence, I tolerate, even laugh at the things they say. But that trust is not universal, and it’s not always mutual.    (M33)

The bottom line is that we need to learn how to walk in each other’s shoes and truly understand and value what people who are different from us feel and experience. It’s easy to be satisfied with our individual levels of tolerance and empathy, but all of us can do better. I’m not advocating a culture of extreme political correctness, either. What I’d like to see is authentic empathy, a greater understanding and appreciation for the worldview of others. With that empathy will come greater trust, and in turn, a much richer society.    (M34)

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