The Marriage of Culture and Empathy

Many culture-based misunderstandings, culture shock situations and even social conflicts could be avoided or minimized by the practice of empathy. Easier said than done; but still worth examining.


Empathy is the ability to understand other’s feelings and actions. Empathy, thus, implies being less judgmental and more understandable, being able to “put oneself in someone else’s shoes” and to identify with others’ situation and reality.


Empathy, in the context of culture, means being able to respect people, traditions, behaviors and history from other places without judgment or destructive criticism. It means being able to understand or try to understand that other cultures are not bad, they are just different because the way they were/are shaped.


Being empathic may come more natural to some people than others, but it is a quality that can be acquired or polished over time. How? By practicing it. Being constantly exposed to other cultures, trying to understand the roots and history of individuals from other origins, investigating about other cultures, immersing oneself in foreign places and having social interactions when abroad can all help gain higher levels of empathy. It sounds like a lot of effort, but the rewards of practicing empathy are even bigger.


Culture coaches or intercultural trainers can also help expats and their families, as well as individuals operating in a multicultural environment, to better understand and sympathize with different cultures. Role playing, story telling and other relevant tools are used to better prepare mobile and international individuals and families. This not only results in happier, more satisfied and less stressed expatriates, but also in more fruitful and peaceful intercultural environments that benefit all.

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