Just as the world’s major cities now have Holocaust Museums, it is time they all established Empathy Museums too. Their purpose would be nothing less than generating a new global culture of empathy by creating adventure spaces where you can explore how to view life from the perspective of other people.
A typical Empathy Museum would not house dusty exhibits inside glass cases. Instead, it would be an exciting and intriguing playground rivalling the finest galleries and tourist attractions that the city has to offer. On rainy Sunday afternoons you might wander through the Empathy Museum with a few friends or your mother-in-law. During the week it is likely to be filled with children on school excursions and inquisitive visitors from countries where the ideal of empathy remains embryonic. The Empathy Museum will ignite the imagination just like the first public museums in the seventeenth century, whose collections of curiosities revealed the wonders of nature and human civilization for the first time.
Who was the greatest traveller of the Victorian era? Amongst the usual top contenders you will find the name of Sir Richard Francis Burton. Best known for translating The Thousand and One Nights from Arabic and for visiting Mecca in 1853 disguised as a Muslim pilgrim, Burton wandered for years throughout the Middle East, Far East and Africa. He had an extraordinary talent for languages – he could speak twenty-nine of them – and was a master of assimilating himself into local cultures. Just after his death in 1890 he was described as ‘a Mohammedan among Mohammedans, a Mormon among Mormons, a Sufi among the Shazlis, and a Catholic among the Catholics.’
The moment has finally come for the Outrospection blog to put its cards on the table and boldly declare who are the greatest empathists of all time. Our selection committee has been painstakingly deliberating over the choices for several months, and you might well be surprised by the results. No, Barack Obama does not appear in our top five, even though he believes ‘the empathy deficit’ to be the greatest scourge of modern society. And not even famed empathetic individuals such as the Dalai Lama, Mother Teresa or Jesus Christ have shown what it takes to make the grade.
It is usual, at this time of year, to make a series of earnest New Year’s Resolutions which – by tradition – you resolutely fail to keep. Why not try promising yourself some New Year’s Explorations instead and widen your personal horizons.
Expanding your empathy might offer just what you are looking for. Empathising is an avant-garde form of travel in which you step into the shoes of another person and see the world from their perspective. It is the ultimate adventure holiday – far more challenging than a bungee jump off Victoria Falls or trekking solo across the Gobi desert.
Here are my five top tips for transforming yourself into an empathetic adventurer over the coming months.
There is a long tradition of developing empathy through direct experience of other people’s lives. Much of it has been aimed at understanding the lives of those living in poverty. In the late 1920s George Orwell dressed up as a tramp and wandered the streets of East London with vagabonds and beggars, a period of his [...]