Community & Government, Wellness

Empathy as a Democratizing Force

Gloria Steinem discusses the importance of empathy to the human experience. She delves deep into the history of Talking Circles and how they are the maximum expression of empathy and the basis for movements and creating change in the world.

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Topics include: Talking Circles


[MUSIC PLAYING] GLORIA STEINEM: We are communal animals. We need each other. And empathy allows us to identify with other people's situation and other people to identify with ours. So I don't think that this human species could have survived without empathy. [MUSIC PLAYING] The first talking circles I experienced were actually in India in villages. I happened to be there for a few years after I graduated from college. I was with a Gandhian group walking through villages where there had been very dangerous caste riots. In the evening, there were often talking circles of women around a fire. Sometimes there's a talking stick or a stone, which people pass from one to the next. And when you were holding that, you are able to tell your story, and everyone listens. So I had that experience of listening to women tell their stories, dealing with whatever individuals are dealing with, crop failure, losing a child, getting ready for a wedding. Whatever it was, each person could express what they wished to express that evening. And in my life, it was the first time I had experienced that kind of living democracy. In American history, women's quilting bees were talking circles. The governance forms of Native Americans were talking circles in which a talking stick was passed around. It's actually what Congress is supposed to be based on because the early settlers learned from the Iroquois Confederacy and others. It's not quite a talking circle, but it at least is more communal than the old monarchy that came before. Talking circles seem to be part of all ancient cultures, as far as I know. They clearly are a form that is human and universal. It's an open field for empathy. First of all, it's a circle. It's not a hierarchy. Secondly, it's democratic. Everybody gets to speak, and everybody listens. And it's important, of course, to complete the circle. Because as each person speaks, you're learning from and empathizing with another person. After all, we don't learn from sameness. We learn from difference. So by sharing that experience or understanding that experience, we can communicate better. Regular experience of circles, talking circles, empathy, ability to express oneself, is fundamental to our humanity, our development, our health. They are not just the basis of personal and communal expression, but the beginning of democracy. I mean that is where democracy is based. [MUSIC PLAYING] It's up to each of us to see how talking circles fit into our lives and our communities. But I think there is a hunger for talking circles. So some people have them around their kitchen table. Some people have them in a workplace. Some people have family reunions as one of their talking circles. In my own life, I've experienced it especially between and among women. - We'll utilize the same consciousness-raising format going around the circle, and then each one will speak as long as they wish, as briefly as pos...

About the Instructor

For the first time ever on MasterClass, a diverse range of our instructors come together to talk about the power of empathy and how it can transform the way you view the world. Join Pharrell Williams, Robin Arzón, Roxane Gay, Walter Mosley, Robert Reffkin, Gloria Steinem, and Cornel West as they share their experiences with empathy and its importance in their lives and careers. Learn how to exercise, cultivate, and promote empathy to connect with others on a deeper, more human level.

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Pharrell Williams, Robin Arzón, Roxane Gay, Walter Mosley, Robert Reffkin, Gloria Steinem, and Cornel West

Pharrell Williams, Robin Arzón, Roxane Gay, Walter Mosley, Robert Reffkin, Gloria Steinem, and Cornel West teach about leading life with empathy.

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