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


Ordinary people who share their stories.

There are many ways to connect with people in order to expand our empathy and understanding of others. One of the most powerful ways is when ordinary people add their voices to what pundits, celebrities and well-known people say. They are often putting themselves on the line, opening themselves up to possibly being misunderstood and even excoriated for telling their experience, for sharing their feelings and their lives. They may well have kept these things, which are often painful or difficult, to themselves. When they share these things publicly, even close friends or family members may be surprised. It takes true bravery to open yourself up, inviting empathy, but knowing you will not always receive it.

This can be as simple as being at a family gathering, listening uncomfortably as your cousin rails against women who have abortions as murderers, and then hearing your beloved aunt quietly speak up, revealing that she had an abortion many years ago.

This can be as public as a newspaper inviting readers to share their experiences—about having an abortion, or being a member of an ethnic or religious minority in a place where they may be the only one, or coming out as gay. You have to admire the courage of those who respond to this invitation, knowing that friends and family as well as strangers will see this, knowing that there will be comments which will be hateful as well as hopeful and supportive. You feel a personal connection to these ordinary people telling their stories. And you read another story, and another, from all kinds of people—a grandmother, a science teacher, an emergency room doctor, a restaurant worker, a guy who grew up in a small town much like the one you grew up in.

Sometimes movements spring up around an issue that has come to the forefront of national attention, something that cries out for many voices to be added to the discussion. The #MeToo movement is an excellent example of this. No doubt, many women have talked privately amongst themselves for a long time about men who sexually harass them at work, in school, at their place of worship, in their neighborhood. Everywhere, really. But as we saw when the #MeToo movement started in 2006, it exploded on social media because women were longing to share the truth of their experiences, and to validate and support each other. Many people had the jolting experience of seeing the hashtag #MeToo on a friend’s Facebook page, and going to them saying “I didn’t know. Tell me about it.”  The Harvard Kennedy School of Business did a case study called “Leading with Empathy: Tarana Burke and the Making of the Me Too Movement.” A million different voices singing together can be incredibly powerful.

There will be similarities, and also individual differences, to the stories ordinary people tell, the experiences they share, which gives a depth and layer of complexity to something that is usually talked about or thought about only in generalities. There is truth in details. Adding many stories, many perspectives, gives us a bigger, clearer picture, a more empathetic view. It’s kind of like a photo mosaic. From a distance, it looks like one picture. But step in, look more closely, and you will see the thousands of tiny pictures that create the one big one.


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.