What Does The Empathy Symbol Stand For?

The Empathy Symbol stands for two “sides” reaching out to each other, and opening up to try to truly understand the other’s experiences and feelings. It could be two groups of people: men and women, blacks and whites, Jews and Muslims, fundamentalist Christians and atheists, Israelis and Palestinians, gays and straights, old and young, able-bodied and disabled, immigrants and native-born, and so on; or it could be two individuals: spouses, neighbors, co-workers, etc.

The Original Empathy Symbol, created in 1973

People have asked about the origins of the empathy symbol. I was a college student, active in the anti-Vietnam war movement. I was contemplating the peace symbol I was wearing, when suddenly the idea for the empathy symbol popped into my head, full-blown. It felt as though it had been given to me, and I have felt spiritually charged to bring it to the world ever since. Deb Ellsworth

Featured Empathy Promoter

Ellie Krug

Lawyer, Diversity and Inclusion Speaker/Trainer, and one of 8 trans or non-binary school board members in the United States

Ellie Krug speaks around the country with her presentation called “Gray Area Thinking,” basing her talk on the premise that “98% of humans have good, empathetic hearts.” She speaks all over, in states and towns of various political leanings.

The Minneapolis Star/Tribune recently featured her remarkable and beautiful story in a front page article. She shares her story about how she decided to come out as a trans person; how she transitioned at age 52 and changed her life; and how it is her mission to spread empathy for trans people to those who may not have much experience with or understanding of LGBTQ+ people. In fact, that’s how she got elected to the school board of a small, conservative county on the far edge of the suburbs of Minneapolis. She knocked on over 1,000 doors so that people could get to know her as a complete person. As the newspaper reports: “One man kicked her off his property, but nearly everyone else was kind, and hardly anyone wanted to talk culture-war issues. Krug didn’t hide her gender identity — it was in the final paragraph of her campaign literature — but she wanted a broader message. ‘I don’t go around saying everything is trans-related,” she said. ‘But it’s important for people to know someone like me was elected, that it wasn’t a close call, and that I’m showing up trying to be a unifier and not a divider.'”

Here is an interesting moment from the training she does: She puts up signs around the room about identity (race, gender, religion, etc.), and asks participants various questions relating to identity, instructing them to stand under the sign that most represents them. Her final question is, What’s the identity you want to be known for? She relates that the response is the same every time, as it was at her most recent training: “Nobody stood under gender. Nobody stood under skin color. Nobody stood under political affiliation or LGBTQ status. All but one stood under the same sign: COMPASSION.”

Ellie Krug’s desire to give her presentation, to share her truth, with all kinds of people, all over, is deeply-felt. As the Star Tribune sums it up: “Because familiarity, she believes, doesn’t breed contempt at all. She doesn’t care if it sounds hopelessly idealistic or impossibly naïve. It’s what she believes at her core: Familiarity only breeds compassion.”


To see previous Empathy Promoters, click here. 


Free download: B & W bookmarks for kids to color, with a simple, beautiful description of empathy. Whether you are a teacher, a caregiver or a parent, you can easily download a sheet of eight bookmarks and print them on cardstock. They would make lovely gifts for children to share with others. Find them on the Materials page.

Check out our page Empathy Symbol in Action! See how the empathy symbol is being used in many ways, from artwork to clothing to logos to inclusion in books to more. There are so many ways to express and share the core value of empathy!

Featured Products! 

Empathy Symbol Copper Necklace

Show everyone your commitment to a more empathetic world. We are excited to be offering empathy symbol necklaces, with a copper symbol on a soft cord. Each pendant is individually made from a mold created from the original empathy symbol. Since each one is hand-crafted, they will vary slightly. We are also now offering 1.5″ buttons and three-inch sew-on patches. You can also get the image for you to use for free however you might like.

Empathy News

For more information about the empathy movement, read Empathy Magazine –an online collection of the latest news about empathy from around the world. Curated by Edwin Rutsch

Join the conversation on the Empathy Symbol Facebook Page!

Check out our Facebook page, and Follow and join the conversation. Posts about the value of empathy in our polarized world; how to promote empathy; and especially posts to further our own empathy toward, and understanding of, others.

Using the Empathy Symbol

empathy symbol german art

A German artist named Caro created this piece of art using the empathy symbol. Others are incorporating the empathy symbol into their logos (with our permission obtained.) We are looking for artists and craftspeople to help spread the value of empathy via items they create–jewelry, mugs, phone case covers… Please see below for how to obtain our permission to do so, under the Creative Commons License.

Here’s how you can use the Empathy Symbol

Use of Empathy Symbol is subject to a Creative Commons License. Find out more.