What's empathy?

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The concept of “empathy” was born in 1873, when the German philosopher Robert Vischer wrote a dissertation on aesthetics.  Vischer coined the word "Einfühlung" to explore a human's capacity to enter into a piece of art or literature and feel the emotions of the artist or author's work through the work itself or its characters.  Einfühlung can be broken into two parts, "Ein", which means "into" and "fühlung", which means "feeling".  When combined, it translates to “feeling-in.”  

In 1908, Edward Titchener introduced the word “empathy” to the English vocabulary by combining “em” (Greek for “in”) and “pathos” (Greek for “feeling”), and the word stuck.  Empathy has taken a ride through the fields of philosophy and psychology, elevating its importance in academics, but more importantly when we create and design for an audience or user in mind.

After a 100 years, empathy has become a driving force in creative processes in the arts, design, and business.  Bringing the word to the front of our conversations raises our awareness of others and keeps the work we do from serving ourselves to the those around us.

Joshua Hoering