This weekend in London the world’s first Empathy Museum opened its doors. It’s a moment I’ve been dreaming about for years. Seeing it actually come to life has been completely thrilling, even overwhelming.
There has been a constant stream of visitors to our launch exhibit, A Mile in My Shoes, a giant shoe box on the banks of the River Thames by Vauxhall Bridge. I’ve seen a 75-year-old woman scooting along the riverside on roller skates while listening to the story of a roller derby champion. I’ve seen curious men slip on the size 12 stilettos of a bearded drag queen. I noticed a woman almost in tears listening to the narrative of someone who lost members of her family in a tragic accident, while I was told by others that the very same story made them feel empowered and more fully alive. Children giggled as they ran along in the size 1 gym shoes of a local schoolgirl and discovered how she saw the world.
One of my favourite moments on the opening day was when a group of young deaf people arrived and I watched them walk off in pairs, one person listening to the audio in their headphones while they signed what they heard to their companion. That’s what an Empathy Revolution can look like.
I first wrote about my idea for an Empathy Museum back in 2007, in a little essay called Empathy and the Art of Living, and more recently set out a vision for it my book Empathy. But there is no way it could have turned into a reality without a huge collaborative effort. I want to thank everyone involved, especially the brilliant team of Clare Patey, the Director of the Empathy Museum, and Kitty Ross, the Creative Producer. I also want to thank all our funders, including those who supported our crowd-funding campaign, and everyone who helped to create A Mile In My Shoes, from the individuals who shared their stories so generously to the audio producers, the shoe-box designers and the Totally Thames festival.
I hope you have a moment to visit the exhibit. Until you do, here are some images in a slideshow that should give a taste of what it has to offer.
Photos: Kate Raworth