Empathy allows us to sense how people feel facing colliding crises.

Testing Your Powers of Empathy

Dominic Cappello
3 min readAug 1, 2020

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How empathetic are we?

Empathy has been described as the capacity to sense other people’s emotions. Empathetic people, it is said, have the ability to imagine what someone else might be feeling. There are researchers studying empathy to better understand if empaths tend to be more concerned with others’ welfare and well-being. It has been suggested that empathy could be a helpful quality for our elected leaders to have. Who knew?

How do you feel about a short survey?

I know you’re busy so I won’t ask you to take a 30 question survey on empathy. I figured the right six questions were plenty. As a matter of fact, after reviewing a number of surveys focused on measuring empathy, I decided to tweak a few things. The first three questions are pretty standard for assessing one’s empathy. I added the last three questions in order to assess just how truly caring we are.

1. I easily feel sad when the people around me feel sad.

  • Strongly Disagree
  • Disagree
  • Neutral
  • Agree
  • Strongly Agree

2. Before criticizing somebody, I try to imagine how I would feel if I were in his/her place.

  • Strongly Disagree
  • Disagree
  • Neutral
  • Agree
  • Strongly Agree

3. It upsets me to see someone being treated disrespectfully.

  • Strongly Disagree
  • Disagree
  • Neutral
  • Agree
  • Strongly Agree

4. If I learned that 29% of parents seeking medical care in a pandemic can’t easily access it, I would want to learn more in order to take action.

  • Strongly Disagree
  • Disagree
  • Neutral
  • Agree
  • Strongly Agree

5. If I learned that 46% of parents seeking mental health care in a time of crisis, can’t easily access it, I would want to learn more in order to take action.

  • Strongly Disagree
  • Disagree
  • Neutral
  • Agree
  • Strongly Agree

6. If I learned that 66% of parents seeking housing security programs in a time of massive job layoffs, can’t easily access them, I would want to learn more in order to take action.

  • Strongly Disagree
  • Disagree
  • Neutral
  • Agree
  • Strongly Agree

WHAT YOUR SCORE MAY MEAN

First, the last three questions reference parents lacking access to the basic services for survival. Those percentages are about right, based on what we are learning from our survey of parents. Each county will be different and you won’t know how tough it is for your neighbors across town until a survey on service gaps is implemented.

After pondering your responses to the Empathy Survey, how do you feel? Were your responses to the first three questions different from the last three? If so, why might that be?

FEELING MY FEELINGS STRONGLY

While I wish to live in a society where empathy is the norm, I would also like that future to one where a person’s capacity to feel the suffering of others is turned into socially-engaged action.

For example, might the true test of empathy be having the power to understand that families near you are struggling to survive as you read this article, and then disrupting your life to take measurable and meaningful action?

Much to ponder and dare I say—feel deeply about.

*The future is what we make it. Join the evolution.

Please excuse any typos as I construct an article at 3am on only one cup of Joe. These stories are mine and mine alone. I do not represent any organization here. If one of my illustrations looks like a real human, empaths or three-headed hydra, that’s total coincidence. Words and images ©Dominic Cappello but share with everyone you know. Questions? The Plan Forward awaits you here: www.tenvitalservices.org

Note: The Empathy Survey is not intended as a self-assessment and people with concerns about empathy and their emotional health should consult a professional health care provider. The first three questions listed within the “Empathy Survey” come from work that was adapted from:

Spreng, R. N., McKinnon, M. C., Mar, R. A., & Levine, B. (2009). “The Toronto Empathy Questionnaire.” Journal of Personality Assessment, 91(1), 62–71.

Davis, M. H. (1980). “A multidimensional approach to individual differences in empathy.” JSAS Catalog of Selected Documents in Psychology, 10, 85.

Olderbak, S., Sassenrath, C., Keller, J., & Wilhelm, O. (2014). “An emotion-differentiated perspective on empathy with the emotion specific empathy questionnaire.” Frontiers in Psychology, 5, 1–14.

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Dominic Cappello

A NY Times bestselling author, social justice activist, Oprah guest, co-author of The 100% Community Model and Anna, Age Eight.