The other day I listened to an interview with a scholar who has recognised the importance of this attribute in the world and at all levels of society. It was not something which had been brought to my attention before but the more I thought about it the more I realised that this may be the missing link in modern societies. The more we crowd together in cities the more it seems to become a survival of the fittest. We come to know fewer people around us and the rest are regarded as strangers about whom  we know little, if anything.

During the interview mention was made of an exhibition in Melbourne, Australia, on the topic. The exhibition was apparently made up of people who are more disadvantaged than the rest of us and who had recorded their stories and left a pair of their shoes. Visitors to the exhibition were asked to stand in a pair of these shoes and listen to the person’s story. This physical contact was very important and those who visited it came away saying that it had been a very emotional experience and had changed them. They had experienced life through the eyes (and feet) of somewhat more disadvantaged than themselves. It was based on the old suggestion that we walk a mile in the shoes of someone less privileged than ourselves to better understand them.

It is many decades since the last world scale war and the cessation of these could be a measure of our progress towards a more peaceful planet, but there are so many wars going on at any one time, creating millions of refugees and injured people, as well as those who lose their lives, are we really making progress? Does the problem lie with the sort of people we choose as , or who are able to become, our leaders, whether we have a western style democracy or a dictatorship? We don’t realise, or we fail to admit, the extent to which empathy should be part of any such selection process.

During the interview I was listening to, the comment was made that rich people tend to have a lower level of empathy than the rest of us, which fits in with the definition of them as money addicts. Certainly in Australia we would have a very different type of person in our Parliaments if the degree of empathy of potential candidates was able to be measured and was taken into account in the selection criteria. This would also seem to apply in the USA in the current Presidential election process.

Is the study of empathy, and ways of measuring it, our key to a more successful and prosperous (for all) planet? What a breakthrough that would be. No more competition to build the biggest and most effective weapons with their power to kill and maim the greatest number of people as a measure of a country’s success.

I hope that the exhibition mentioned above will be able to move to many more places and many more countries so that it can be experienced across the world and take on the importance it seems to deserve. Maybe the missing link in our search for a better world is the lack of recognition of the importance of empathy as a human trait.