Friday, October 19, 2018

Elizabeth Segal's "Social Empathy"

Elizabeth Segal is a professor in the School of Social Work at Arizona State University. She is the author of Social Welfare Policy and Social Programs: A Values Perspective, fourth edition (2016) and coauthor of Assessing Empathy (2017).

Segal applied the “Page 99 Test” to her new book, Social Empathy: The Art of Understanding Others, and reported the following:
I opened Social Empathy to page 99 and reread the story about my first year as a college professor when I had a class that involved students going out into the community to learn about a social concern. The students were invited to pick their own topic. When they suggested that they wanted to study homelessness in the community, I was a bit snooty. I had just moved to this small college town from Chicago, and I was convinced that I knew real homelessness. What could these students find in a small college town that looked at all like homelessness? That was my hubris, my arrogance, I knew it all.

Luckily, my newness on the job infused a competing healthy dose of insecurity, and so I let the students go on and convince me that they had a solid topic. That was my humility, that just maybe I was wrong and they were right. The story on p. 99 tells the reader how wrong I was, and in that process of letting my humility overtake my hubris, I experienced empathy. I listened. I took their point of view. I walked in the shoes of my students. I still had a lot to learn about teaching. But infusing empathy into my teaching helped me to see that my students deserved to be treated with the same academic respect that I wanted. From that class I learned the connection between humility and empathy. What a gift my students gave me.

When we are so sure of ourselves that we disregard the opinion of others or the feelings of others, so full of hubris, we are not being empathetic. However, when we respect the experiences of others, no matter how different they are from us, we show humility, we show that we don’t know everything and that their opinions and feelings matter. And that shows empathy.
Learn more about Social Empathy at the Columbia University Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue