McCarthy & Wright (Empathy and Experience in HCI, CHI 2008) describe empathy in literature in the following way

“Social theory broadly treats empathy in one of two ways. The first emphasizes psychological processes and individual abilities, describing empathy as recognizing, perceiving and feeling the emotion of  another…. In contrast with reliance on identification and re-enactment, the second approach sees empathy as an intersubjective accomplishment”.

I’m using selective descriptions from the text here. Now this definition/explanation/operationalization(?) of empathy does not say the nature of feelings or emotions we should have with the ‘other’. It does not say it should be positive, negative, neutral or any other type.

However, I have always somehow assumed or believed that empathy is always related with a problem, need or other negative feeling/emotion one associates. For example, when I design a backpack for a student, I generally would build empathy him primarily on his/her situation e.g books are too heavy to carry, electronic gadgets should be protected at all cost from bad weather as it’s hard to lose control over things in a fast paced semester etc.,

Now somehow it struck me today why is it that I always associate myself with negative things from which I should offer protection etc., They do have positive emotions. They do enjoy activities. As in above example, people would love their backpacks. For some, it’s an accessory. For some it evokes joy and warmth when they wear it.

So the point is I have realized that empathy is not necessarily about negative emotions but also about positive emotions like joy, happiness, celebration etc., This post probably should have been posted in experience design class but I thought if there was at least one who can ’empathize’ with me, they’ll also reflect and realize it  🙂

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