The World’s First Empathy Museum

Empathy Museum RSA Animate

One of my ambitions is to found the world’s first Empathy Museum – an experiential and conversational adventure space for stepping into other people’s shoes. I’ve just written an article at the Virgin Unite blog where I describe my vision for the museum as both a physical space and a digital community. You might, for instance, encounter a Human Library where you borrow people (instead of books) for conversation, or a Sweatshop where you make clothing under the working conditions of sweatshop labourers in developing countries.

And here’s some great news. Not only have we recently held a fantastically creative ‘hack weekend’ with students from the Royal College of Art in London, designing prototype exhibits – we’ve also received seed funding to help turn the Empathy Museum into a reality. So the journey starts here.

Do check out the article, and share below any ideas you may have for exhibits that should be part of the Empathy Museum.

11 thoughts on “The World’s First Empathy Museum

  1. Dear Roman,

    Thank you for your empathy, spirit of service, creativity and courage to envision the Empathy Museum. And congratulations on the progress on making it a reality!! I hope one day we can have one in Singapore where I live too.

    Thank you for being open to ideas. Here are some ideas and resources…

    ~ Animals ~
    Thank you for considering the suffering of animals too.
    – There are many excellent films on animal suffering as well as sentience. If you need recommendations, please let me know.
    – Humans could be caged up like zoo animals.
    – New documentary makes humans feel farmed animals’ pain
    – The Great Crate Challenge where people get into crates that pigs are kept in
    – Man becomes “dog” to show what dogs think about walks

    – People could be invited to empathise with animals in sanctuaries who once led a painful life but now live in peace. Perhaps a link could be made to off-site places people could visit, such as Farm Sanctuary.
    If you need ideas or support for the animals section, please let me know. I’ll ask around the animal protection movement. Hope we can creatively cover this section without the use of live animals (except if they’re domestic and handled carefully by animal protectionists).

    ~ Links to other Empathy Exhibits ~
    I wonder if other off-site experiential exhibits like Dialogue in the Dark and Dining in the Dark could be mentioned for they promote empathy too.

    ~ Deathbed ~
    People could be invited to lie down on their deathbed and imagine what they feel and think. Awareness of our mortality can be a powerful way to remember what’s most important in life. If you need resources on this, let me know.

    ~ Power-holders ~
    Some of us who work for a more compassionate and just world have anger towards the power-holders and decision-makers who allow oppression, cruelty and injustice to continue. Yet, they, too, need our empathy. They are acting out of their own wounds, upbringing, needs. What would happen if we did our work with love for them too? We would have more Gandhis, more joyful activists, perhaps more successes?

    At the same time, there are some power-holders who use their power for the greater good and have great empathy. Understanding the minds of such servant leaders could be useful so people can emulate them.

    The same can be done for criminals for many of us are quick to demonise and judge them.

    ~ Oneself~
    Dr Marshall Rosenberg’s work on Nonviolent Communication and Dr Kristin Neff’s work on Self-Compassion are illuminating on the relationship we have with ourselves. The inner dialogue we have with ourselves is very important in determining our level of peace. And is also related to our relationship with others. An exhibit on showing empathy towards ourselves would be something new to consider for many.

    ~Social Change Advocates/Activists and Whistleblowers~
    Some of these people have much integrity, empathy and an unusual level courage. I wish more people could understand why they do what they do, even at great personal risk and cost. Here are some examples of those contending for Whistleblower of the Year.
    And Ashoka has many examples.

    With deep appreciation for your work,

  2. Vadivu, I really love your suggestions.

    I completely agree that empathy with animals should have a place in any Empathy Museum (‘bioempathy’ is a topic I discuss in my book Empathy: A Handbook for Revolution).

    I also think that deeply experiential empathy approaches such as Dialogue in the Dark are key models. Actually experiencing – if only for a short time – what someone else’s life is like has more impact on our behaviour and thinking than almost any other kind of empathising. I was completely bowled over by my visit to Dialogue in the Dark in Athens recently. Spending 65 minutes in complete darkness with a visually impaired guide was something that I wish we all had the opportunity to do. More info on Dialogue in the Dark here:


  3. Daisy, thanks for your empathy-through-theatre suggestions. I’m really interested in Cardboard Citizens and the whole idea of Augusto Boal’s Theatre of the Oppressed. I’d love to see it integrated into Empathy Museum exhibits.

  4. Really, really great news on becoming a step closer, Roman 🙂 Congratulations on the funding (sadly fundamental within this monetary system). Looking forward to hearing more, and helping if I can.


  5. Hi Roman! I love the idea. One of the most touching experiences of my life was when I visited Hellfire Pass, Thailand. More than 100,00 men died building the Thai-Burma Railway here during WWII. (A story recently recaptured in the film ‘The Railway Man’.) Hellfire Pass has been very well preserved by the Australian and Thai Governments and converted into an outdoor museum. You can take the journey along the railway with a headset which signals important landmarks and tells the true stories of POWs, as recorded in their journals. It’s deeply touching, I think, because the deeply personal stories of individuals are somehow the most universal. I think recapturing the experiences of sweatshop workers, for example, is wonderful but even more so if we can truly step into the shoes not of a fictional character in a fictional sweatshop, but of a real person who has a deeply personal experience to share.

  6. Oh this makes me so happy. I sited you in my thesis on the Empathy Museum. I’m so happy that this is becoming a reality.

  7. Hi Roman,

    I love your idea and think with technology this could be an immersive experience. Good luck and please make lots of posts along your journey!


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