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The Importance of Empathy in Today’s Volatile Culture

Doug Wojcieszak, founder of Sorry Works! a leading disclosure training & advocacy organization writes about the personal and business power of apologies and the importance of forgiveness.

Over the last several years I have had the opportunity to get to know a true gentleman, Mr. Richard Levick, Esq. Richard is a leading figure in the crisis communication world and his firm has the tagline, “Fixing the Impossible.”  Last year Richard interviewed me for one of his “In House Warrior Podcasts.” 

We live in tumultuous, even crazy times where a slip of a tongue can leave a person branded or ruined by the social media mob. Recently, Richard and I were featured in a story about public figures,  beseeched by social media commandos for alleged current or past sins, being too quick to issue public mea culpas.  We were asked to offer up our expertise; a punch line from the article was don’t apologize if you haven’t done anything wrong. How many times has Sorry Works! offered the same advice to physicians and nurses dealing with angry patients or families?  Don’t fall on your sword to appease an angry family unless you really screwed up?  Be quick to empathize, but slow to apologize; wait for the review before owning a situation.

A couple weeks ago Richard authored an essay on empathy entitled “Amazing Grace” in which he wondered aloud if historical figures such as Mahatma Gandhi, Winston Churchill, and Eleanor Roosevelt would have survived in today’s social media environment. He could have included JFK along with many others into that mix. Richard argued that these luminaries were loaded with sins but were afforded the opportunity to evolve and continue serving. The title of his essay — Amazing Grace — is taken from the beloved hymn, which was written by John Newton, a slave trader turned abolitionist. Indeed, so many historical figures are imperfect, messy souls who did some extraordinary acts that continue to evolve (think the US Constitution) and shape our lives today.

For Richard, empathy is not being quick to judge, looking at the entire body of work that constitutes a person, and providing space and time for the good to outweigh the bad present in each of us. Consider his words: “There is an inner peace that comes with being around people who accept, do not judge, listen and work to make the world a better place. It is always quite something to be around them.”

For years at Sorry Works! we have talked about the need to empathize, including saying “sorry” after something goes wrong along with staying connected with patients/families, honestly reviewing a situation, and proactively fixing problems. Richard Levick reminds us empathy is much more. It’s how we look at people, feel about them, and treat them. Do you empathize with your patients and families?  They are not perfect, but God put a heart beat in their chest.  How do we look at physicians and nurses, especially those who have made a mistake?  God put a heart beat in their chest too…Read more

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