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Empathy and Understanding

The ability to understand others as well as the ability to accurately hear and understand their unspoken or partly expressed thoughts, feelings, and concerns. It includes an increasingly complex and deep understanding of others and includes and understanding of multiple cultures…their similarities and differences.

Exercise Instructions

  1. Pair up!
  2. Read the three personas and choose who you want to be.
  3. Take turns following the instructions.  One person acts the profile while partner is him/herself.  It’s okay to help your partner get in character.
  4. What was it like?  Did you achieve your objectives?


  • Oprah Winfrey - Achieves empathy through emotions
  • Albert Einstein - Achieves empathy through intellectual curiousity
  • Cleopatra - Achieves empathy through cultural knowledge and understanding

Oprah Winfrey

Oprah embodies how we often think of empathy - compassionate, emotional, and nurturing. She is interested in finding out the motivations and beliefs of others in order to create more understanding in the world.  She uses intimate details of her own life and own feelings to make it safe for others reveal themselves. The root of her empathy is to understand how others feel.

 Albert Einstein

Einstein may not have been a typical "people person," but he dedicated his life to understanding how the world works. He was a dedicated humanitarian who championed many causes and was sympathetic to the plight of the oppressed. Einstein had a capacity to abandon beliefs and perspectives whenever the situation changed. For instance, after World War I he was an ardent pacificist; yet, after the rise of Naziism, he abandoned these beliefs and championed the development of the atomic bomb.  The root of his empathy was to find out why.


Cleopatra was a woman leader at a time when women had no rights, let alone power. Yet Cleopatra was able to rule, rebuilding Egypt to its former economic prowess and create a cult of worship that lasted several centuries. She did this by influencing other powerful leaders to work in her interests. Contrary to legend, her influencing ability wasn't due to her powers of seduction, but through her ability to anticipate others' wants and needs. She studied the cultures of all the surrounding countries, was fluent in multiple languages, and practiced several religions.  The root of her empathy was to understand what others' believed.