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<xTITLE>Empathy is the Secret Weapon</xTITLE>

Empathy is the Secret Weapon

by Jeff Thompson
March 2014 Jeff Thompson

Empathy is not just a powerful tool for mediators- it is being used with social media to inspire young people.

It is a bold task to attempt to fight hate with the tool empathy.

Hours Against Hate, started in 2010, is a project co-launched by U.S. Department of State Special Representative To Muslim Communities Farah Pandith, to inspire young people to combat hate based on race, religion, gender, ethnicity, having a disability or being a lesbian, gay, bisexual, or being transgender.

Having the ability to combat hate requires skills that are also necessary of mediators and other conflict professionals.  One such skill is empathy. It is important to note empathy is about understanding the perspective, emotions, and motivations of others.  It does not require agreeing but more importantly it gives you insight and understanding of others as you move from the way you “see” things to “see” the situation or issue from a different perspective.  Lack of empathy often can lead to misunderstanding, confusion, and even more unfortunately, violent conflict.

Research, including that of which I am currently conducting at Griffith University Law School, establishes a connection between empathy and rapport with the nonverbal communication cues that display each.  This includes, but is not limited to, eye contact, open-handed gestures, head nodding, and smiling.  Further, research has connected empathy with building trust as well as being advantageous to creating mutually beneficial solutions.

Empathy is a not a soft skill but rather critical in negotiations and at diminishing hate from enduring.

President Obama recently stated, “Our sons and daughters are not born to hate, they are taught to hate.”  From this perspective, the opportunity exists to prevent the teaching of hate from continuing while also promoting a message of understanding.

A simple practice I have personally been trying to promote for over nine years in law enforcement as well as through being a professional mediator, helping others negotiate, training a variety of professionals (including police, judges, doctors, and lawyers), and working in interfaith dialogue in order to create understanding, there must first be communication.  In order for communication to exist, you have to interact with others. 

Sounds simple. 

It is and that is the basis of Hours Against Hate.  Hours Against Hate is a call for young people to “do something.”  It calls for young people to stand up against hate and promote respect and dignity for everyone.  It expands on the concept of volunteering and expands it to, as explained by Special Representative Pandith, “spend an hour or more of their time with someone who does not look, live, love, or pray like them. It calls upon the next generation to walk in someone else’s shoes.”

Not surprisingly, considering it is reaching out to young people, Hours Against Hate is relying on social media to get its message out.  It has created a Facebook page, a Twitter account, and recently received recognition by Coca Cola (link below) on their social action site. Although it is a grassroots initiative intending to display how every individual can make a difference, it has also garnered substantial wide-ranging support that those looking to promote mediation can learn from.

Aside of the Coca Cola Company spotlighting, it also successfully petitioned the 2012 London Organizing Committee of the Olympic and Paralympic Games to be an “Inspire Mark” for the Games; it has sponsored rock concerts to raise awareness; Linkin Park and Chromeo made a video for them (Don’t worry if you never heard of them, it just means you are not one of the young people); and the Canadian-based company Social Fitness even created an app promoting Hours Against Hate’s message by allowing people to literally “walk a mile in someone else’s shoes.” 

This is the basis of Hours Against Hate- developing empathy in young people to prevent the walls of hate and ignorance from building barriers between one another.   Hours Against Hate suggests working even an hour with someone unlike themselves can be the greatest teacher of preventing hate from growing as the individual is learning from the heuristic model.  They learn from their own experiences and are able to share it on their Facebook page connecting with others. 

This critical element allows young people from all over the world to realize that yes, their actions can make a difference while at the same time realizing they are not on this journey alone.  Rather, there are others doing it in their city, state, and nation as well as in towns and nations across the globe. 

As Special Representative Pandith says, “We can’t get there tomorrow if we don’t speak up today.” Let your words speak about the empathic actions you are taking today.

Special Representative Pandith is the 2013 keynote speaker at the annual ACR-GNY Annual Conference:

Follow Special Representative Pandith on twitter:
Hours Against Hate:
Visit the Hours Against Hate Facebook page:
Coca-Cola Journey: Taking Global Action To Fight Hate:


Jeff Thompson, Ph.D., is a professor at Lipscomb University, researcher, mediator, and trainer. He is also involved in crisis and hostage negotiation as well as a law enforcement detective. His research includes law enforcement crisis and hostage negotiation in terrorist incidents. He received his doctorate from Griffith University Law School having researched the impact nonverbal communication has in conflict situations with respect to developing rapport, building trust, and displaying professionalism.

Dr. Thompson has presented and trained on the topic of conflict, mediation, (crisis and hostage) negotiation, communication and nonverbal communication internationally for a variety of audiences including police personnel, government officials, judges, attorneys, physicians, sales people, business professionals, and both graduate and undergraduate students. He has also been published in numerous professional and academic publications.

He is the co-chair of ACR's national Crisis Negotiation Section, and he is an ad-hoc reviewer for multiple academic journals. He received his MS in Negotiation and Dispute Resolution from the Werner Institute, Creighton University School of Law.

(All posts by Jeff Thompson represent his personal reflections and opinions and not that of any organization.)

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