One of our college lecturers, Aine Venables, is currently undertaking a research project about empathy, in particular how “student and staff co-creation and definitions of ‘empathy’ can support outcomes in practical work” (read more here).
As a class, we are working as co-researchers, recording our own experiences of ’empathy’ and “defining ideas of empathy both as individuals and as a collective whole”. We were given the option of creating an ’empathy blog’ to record our thoughts and experiences, but I decided to make a diary, so that there is a physical object to look through at the end of the project.
To emphasise the nature of the research, I decided to re-use paper I had lying around for the pages, empathising with the environment and the people and organisations who actively try to reduce the amount of trees being cut down. I also decided to use my vintage typewriter, which I got from a charity shop years ago. The ribbon needs replacing but it is still a beautiful object. Again, I was empathising with the environment – giving something old and a bit worn-out a new purpose – and the local economy, by supporting a local hospice.
Armed with a box of cut papers and an old typewriter, I got to work.
These are the first three pages, which I’ll explain in a bit more detail:
The first one was an example of an everyday occurrence, that I only really considered as and empathic moment after we had been briefed on the project.
The car driver was empathic to us (Max and I), as pedestrians, by letting us cross before she pulled up to the junction, in which case we would have to walk around the back of her car to cross the road if she couldn’t pull out straight away. (By saying ‘she let us cross the road even though she didn’t have to’, I mean it wasn’t a designated pedestrian crossing). She obviously thought that pausing to let us cross was less of an inconvenience to her than us having to walk around her car would have been to us, and to think that, she may well have put herself in our shoes, so to speak, and considered how she would have felt being a pedestrian in that situation.
The second page was about something I feel will crop up a lot throughout the book.
Back in January, I decided to go vegan as a way to control my diet and lose some weight. Although I was vegetarian anyway, I knew that going vegan would entail lots of research into nutrition and I would really start to think about what I was eating. It really did work, I feel healthier and happier in myself (but that’s not what this blog is about).
As I looked up vegan recipes online and ‘liked’ vegan pages on Facebook, I really got engrossed in what veganism is all about – the idea that animals are not ours to exploit. So, although it started as more of a diet, I do now think more about how my lifestyle choices affect other people, animals and the environment. And I would never go back to cow’s milk or yogurt because so many great vegan versions exist that have so much less impact on the planet.
It has become something I feel quite strongly about, and my diary may become more of a research object into ’empathy with animals and the environment’ as the project continues – we’ll see.
The third page was about a bit of a chance happening:
Max put on a documentary about autism and I was sort of half-watching it while doing other things but ended up really getting into it. It helped me to empathise with people on the autistic spectrum, because it explained how they think and why they think like that – it was really interesting. I then found this article, questioning whether people with autism lack empathy themselves and it contained a few good points, for example, it may not be they can’t empathise, but rather they may not show their feelings in a way understood by others and so it may seem like they struggle with empathy. An interesting read!
That’s it for now – I’ll update you next week with the following pages!
Thanks for reading,