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Understanding a situation from someone else’s point of view can be very difficult at times. The
skill set and art of empathy is learned throughout one’s life. From a child in elementary school
to a professor in a classroom, empathy informs our ability to understand, communicate and
influence others. UMD will be holding the Cultivating Compassion: Empathy, Leadership, and
Social Change conference on Wednesday March 6, 2013 in the Kirby Ballroom. The
conference begins at 9 am with a welcome from Vice Chancellor Lisa Erwin and ends at 6 pm.
The conference is free and open to students, faculty, staff, and community members. There will be a wide variety of topics addressing uses of empathy including Neuroscience, Evolution and Empathy; Empathy and Healing through Art; Poetry and Empathy; Empathy, Race and Character and many others. There is limited space for some of the workshops and preregistration is encouraged. Registration and information is online at: Cultivating Compassion: Empathy, Leadership, and Social Change.
Dr. Anita Nowak, Integrating Director of the Social Economy Initiative at McGill University, will be giving the keynote address at noon. Her speech is entitled “Empathic Action Rocks: Join the Movement that Can Change Your Life and Change the World.” She will discuss the importance of empathy in our daily lives and how engaging in what she calls “Empathic Action" can also benefit one's own health and well-being. Nowak began to understand the importance of empathy after a trip to Rwanda in the summer of 2008 when she and her sister conducted a needs assessment for a women's collective trying to launch a micro-credit loans program. “All of the women in the group had lost family members in the genocide and some had adopted orphan children. Many of them were living with HIV/AIDS and most of them were facing abject poverty,” Nowak said. “Since that trip, I continue to struggle with reconciling the abundance of the West and a lack of the most basic resources and opportunities typical of developing countries. This is why my work is now focused on empayhy as a lever for positive, sustainable social change.”
Ann Harrington, local Nonviolent Compassionate Communication Trainer/ Facilitator will be conducting five skill workshops throughout the day. These workshops are designed to offer an assortment of practical perspectives and skills for using empathy in everyday communication. “Even though we know that conflict is a normal and healthy fact of life, it is often challenging to stayconnected in empathy in the pressure of that moment.” Harrington said.
“If you’ve ever wondered what’s really going on in a difficult conversationthat does not seem to resolve with regular communication efforts, these sessions will address that common conundrum,” she said “You will be introduced to a simple-yet-profound language skill that invites you to experiment with a subtle shift in how you think, sort, empathically listen and authentically express yourself.”
Harrington believes these communication tools can support people in both personal and professional conflicts and views empathic listening and speaking as a leadership skill. She said, ”It’s exciting to think about how learning and practicing empathy together can deeply impact our campus, city and whole community.”
This event is sponsored by the Chancellor's Office, College of Liberal Arts Change Team, Kirby Leadership Institute, College of Liberal Arts, Office of Civil Engagement, Instructional Development Services, Office for Cultural Diversity, UMD Library, and Department of Writing Studies. There will be two follow up sessions focused around Non-Violent Communication in April for students and faculty. For more information visit: Kirby Leadership Institute.
by Katarina Menze, February 2013
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