At Junto, we believe there are three types of empathy: cognitive, emotional, and compassionate.

Cognitive empathy is when we understand others and their experience. Emotional empathy is when we feel what others do. Compassionate empathy is when we act on either the cognitive or emotional (in other words, compassion requires one of the other two).

Today, like many people, I’m struggling with how to be compassionate for Black people.

As a second-generation Indian-American, even though I’ve experienced racism and discrimination, I will never feel what Black people have accumulated over fourteen generations. And so the only option I have to be more compassionate is to better understand their experience.

The more books I read, documentaries I watch, museums I visit, conversations I have, and stories I hear…the more I can deepen that understanding and, hopefully, the more empathetic I can become.

This is why, in my opinion, it does little good to publish comments that we “stand with” Black people, promote our diversity and inclusion efforts, or say that we’re not racist. First, those statements aren’t about them, they’re about us. And second, none of them is rooted in understanding or mutual feeling.

Many Black activists and thoughtful citizens are telling the rest of us to “listen, learn, and act.” Notice the eerie coincidence? They’re basically telling us to become empathetic and compassionate.

 

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