“Anyone writing about empathy is trying to hit a moving target,” said empathy scholar, Lou Agosta – highlighting the term’s confusion in both common conversation and academic literature.
When we are talking about empathy, what exactly are we talking about – shared feelings, care for someone else, or perhaps a more telepathic “mind-reading” grounded in vicarious experience?
To some extent, answering these questions relies on what it is that we are really seeking when we pursue empathy. To vent? To find a solution? To receive acknowledgement or “be heard or seen”?
In this workshop, we explored our roles in empathy, questioning the aim of empathetic interactions, and analyzing what empathy looks like when it’s done well. After looking at the aesthetic foundations of empathy, we considered the interplay between savoring the other’s emotion and mitigating our own emotional overload.
By the end of the workshop, we had some helpful vocabulary for describing empathy and new frameworks for understanding our interpersonal interactions.
Julianna Breit is our 2021-2023 Merlin Student Scholar Fellow. Our first undergraduate fellow, Julianna was selected as junior in 2021 and did such an amazing job that we extended her fellowship for another year. Now a senior at Carroll College, she is double-majoring in Biochemistry and Philosophy with minors in Ethics and Value Studies, Neuroscience, and Chemistry. Valuing inquisition, creativity, integration, restoration, and understanding, Julianna strives to unite philosophy and neuroscience.
Her research interests include Phenomenology of Emotion, Trauma, and Empathy. She is interested in pursuing a holistic perspective of body and mind that will help to inform her understanding of the human experience and her work in the field.
Recently, Julianna participated in the prestigious Exeter Summer College Programme at the University of Oxford, where she studied the Neuroscience of Stress and Trauma under Dr. Zoltan Sarnyai (MD, PhD, M.S.). With Merlin, she will be continuing her research on the neuroscientific and philosophical implications of sadness and grief.
Her fellowship involves a combination of research, writing and philosophy in the community activities. Learn more about Julianna and her 1st year fellowship projects here!
Thank you to the Helena Area Community Foundation and the City of Helena whose grant award to our organization is helping us provide activities like these and more to the community. Thank you also to our workshop leader, Julianna Breit, and our workshop participants for making the event such a success…and our sustaining donors!