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
World-renowned Minneapolis Institute of Art (Mia), long beloved for bringing its vast collection of world art to everyone via free admission, launched a ground-breaking new program in 2017 exploring the relationship between art and empathy. Its stated mission: “Mia is collaborating with museum colleagues as well as social scientists, artists, educators, and others to research and explore practices for fostering empathy and global understanding through the power of art and to share these findings with the field.”
In describing their goals and the reason this initiative is so important now, they say: “In our increasingly divisive world, polarized by issues regarding politics, racial inequities, marriage equality, global warming, income disparities, and immigration policies, it becomes clear that our failures to understand other people’s feelings are exacerbating prejudice, conflict, and inequality. If we wish to develop not only a more equal society but a happier and more creative one, we will need to look outside ourselves and attempt to identify with the experiences of others. This critical skill is called empathy, which, according to Roman Krznaric, an expert on empathy, ‘has the power to transform relationships, from the personal to the political, and create fundamental social change.’
“Art museums, with their collections filled with stories of humanity from across the globe, are well-positioned to play a vital role in helping people understand each other. Minneapolis Institute of Art (Mia) champions the power of art—and the responsibility of art museums—to spark curiosity and creativity, connect people across cultural differences, and engage our individual and shared values.”
We often talk about the power of literature and the written word, both through fiction and non-fiction, to expand and enhance people’s empathy. We don’t as often think about the power of artistic expression in general–through music, dance, and the visual arts. But think about the spontaneous graffiti, the murals, that appeared after George Floyd’s murder, and how much they both expressed the feelings and experiences of those who created them, and furthered all of our understanding and empathy. The art in and around George Floyd Square in Minneapolis is powerful. Interestingly, Mia did an exhibition, featured on the page for Empathy and the Visual Arts Center, two years earlier after Philando Castile was killed by a police officer in Falcon Heights, near St. Paul, called “Art and Healing: In the Moment June 17, 2018 – July 29, 2018.”
Check out all that the Center for Empathy and the Visual Arts offers: information, ideas and perspectives in thoughtful blogs; programs and events for interested citizens as well as professionals in the visual arts fields; explanations of exhibits that further empathy; resources and research.
And if you’re near Minneapolis, check out the museum itself. Their incredible art collection, spanning thousands of years and world-wide cultures, always has something that will expand your understanding, appreciation, and empathy. The artwork presented here, titled “Rocking Chair,” by Nellie Mae Rowe, is from a current exhibition titled “In the Presence of Our Ancestors: Southern Perspectives in African American Art.” You can also currently view drawings about Covid, created by the artist Piotr Szyhalski; a photography exhibit from Africa by artist Todd Webb; an exhibit of basket weaving by American women; and an exhibit called “Rituals of Resilience.” And if you’re not near Minneapolis, check out whatever art museum you are near, and let the visual arts expand your empathy.
Check out our new 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!
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.
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.
Help spread the value of empathy! We will send you up to 30 bookmarks printed on cardstock, and/or up to 10 bumper stickers, for free! contact us with your address and what you would like.
Using the Empathy Symbol
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.
Use of Empathy Symbol is subject to a Creative Commons License. Find out more.