How You Can Practice Empathy in Your Everyday Life

Posted by Facing History and Ourselves on December 21, 2016

Jane McGonigal.jpgCan you practice being more empathetic—that is, the ability to sincerely understand and share someone else’s feelings? Jane McGonigal, world-renowned game designer and Director of Game Research and Development for the Institute for the Future, says you can. And she can tell you how.

In November, McGonigal kicked off the online game for social change, Face the Future, with Facing History. Over 8,000 students, teachers, and community members from 51 countries around the world, gathered to imagine what the future of empathy might look like in 2026.

But to imagine the future of empathy, you need to understand the two different types of empathy: “easy” empathy and “hard” empathy. Watch the clip below to hear her explain it.


McGonigal challenges you to practice hard empathy with these three steps:

  1. Go to any news site
  2. Read a story about someone experiencing something you have never directly experienced
  3. Imagine yourself experiencing it

It sounds simple but it can be difficult at first to truly imagine yourself in someone else’s shoes. Yet, with practice, it becomes easier. Think hard about how their particular circumstances would affect your everyday life. What would it feel like to be that person? What obstacles would you face? What opportunities would you have?

So why should we practice empathy? Imagining ourselves experiencing something we can’t directly relate to can help us realize our own capacity for making positive change in our own lives, our communities, and in other people’s lives.

Photo Caption: Jane McGonigal speaks in Boston at Facing History's Community Conversation in November 2016. 

Topics: Gaming, Social-Emotional Learning, Empathy, Community Conversations

At Facing History and Ourselves, we value conversation—in classrooms, in our professional development for educators, and online. When you comment on Facing Today, you're engaging with our worldwide community of learners, so please take care that your contributions are constructive, civil, and advance the conversation.


Welcome to Facing Today, a Facing History blog. Facing History and Ourselves combats racism and antisemitism by using history to teach tolerance in classrooms around the globe.

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