How can museums foster empathy?

Despite this speech, fostering empathy is not a visible priority in either the school curriculum or whatever remnants of civic dialogue are present in the United States. In fact, empathy is poorly defined, poorly understood, and rarely taught. What is the role that museums can and should play in addressing this gap?

….5 tips for Fostering Empathy

  1. Empathy requires hard work. People often imagine how others feel or felt based on their own personal experience or on stereotypes. If you are going to make empathy a goal of your programs or tours, make sure to provide time and support for this.
  2. Provide context before asking people to imagine the lives or feelings of the historical figures visitors are studying. Make sure this context is relevant, and will help visitors answer or consider empathy-related prompts.
  3. Explicitly ask visitors to imagine themselves in another’s position. The question “How might they have felt if…” may be more productive than “How would you feel if…”
  4. If you are teaching about people who lived in the past, make sure not to compare the past and present in a way that suggests people suffered because they don’t have what we have now. No one in the 19th century felt like they were suffering because they did not have computers, television, or air conditioning, so it is not useful to suggest this to visitors.
  5. If you are talking about people who are physically uncomfortable, consider making your visitors (mildly) physically uncomfortable. Research shows that when people are physically comfortable, it is harder to empathize with people in states of discomfort.

by Rebecca Herz