In Support of Empathy

Written By: Booth Andrews

Booth Andrews | Founder of The Booth Andrews Company

Who am I to reach for my soul at a time like this? To reach for the portal to the future I cannot see.

Who am I to “indulge” in my own well-being at a time like this? To utilize the tools that help me show up as the best version of me.

Who am I to be “worthless” aka “unproductive” at a time like this? To feel the mental and emotional overwhelm and resist the programming that says “push through.”

Who am I to be overcome with grief for people I do not know and whose stories I cannot tell? For innocent lives brutalized and lost. All of them. Not just one color or creed. Not just one moment in time.

Who am I to turn inward at a time like this? To tend to my roots and my wellspring so that whatever I have to give might be a light to someone else.

Who am I to resist the oversimplification of the human experience to the point that we no longer know what it is to be whole and human and to love each other well.

Who am I not to?

What if our first response to someone else’s expression of pain (or any emotion for that matter) was simply, “I believe you.”?

Humans are biologically wired for connection. Without it, we die. Empathy is an essential element in establishing and maintaining connection.

Empathy describes our capacity to feel what someone else is feeling (even if we haven’t had the same experience), communicate our understanding of the emotion under the experience, care about the other person’s well-being, and respond with compassion.

A couple of weeks ago, in the face of the devastating loss of innocent life on both sides of the current crisis in Israel and Gaza, The Atlantic published a piece by Xochitl Gonzalez titled “What Happened to Empathy?”

“We have become inured to human suffering,” Gonzalez writes in her exploration of the impact technology has had in allowing us to go about so much of our daily lives without encountering other humans, particularly humans that are different from us.

“Your capacity to practice empathy is directly tied to your well-being.”

As with all topics involving humans, the absence of empathy in the world today is complex, and cannot be tied to a single origin. Off of the top of my head, I can name a variety of potentially causal factors:

  • The reduction in human interaction facilitated by technology as described by Gonzalez.
  • Lack of awareness of what empathy is or how to practice it.
  • Belief that empathy is “soft” and ineffective or inappropriate.
  • A cultural reward system that allows people to achieve measures of success (power, position, financial, etc) without accountability to other humans.
  • Disconnection from our own internal emotional experience(s) which may then mean we have no capacity or desire to acknowledge and validate the emotional experiences of others.
  • An epidemic of burnout and compassion fatigue.

The list could go on, but today I want to emphasize this last factor: an epidemic of burnout and compassion fatigue.

Current workforce burnout statistics range from 40% all the way to 89% depending on the study. In one Canadian study, 80% of educators surveyed were burned out as a result of the emotional labor of caring for everyone else within broken systems, often at their own expense.

While most of the data on burnout comes from the workforce, our bodies do not understand the difference between work stress and personal stress. For the body, all stress is cumulative, regardless of source. So, I encourage you to read the definition of burnout below and expand the word “job” in your mind to any task that needs to be done in work or in life.

Burnout is the “result of a chronic imbalance between the demands of the job and the resources one has to complete the job causing long-term, unresolvable . . . stress.”

Compassion fatigue (also described by some as empathic distress fatigue) is the result of burnout plus secondary traumatic stress, i.e., the psychological distress connected with being exposed to the suffering of others.

When the duration and/or intensity of stress is not offset with appropriate recovery and healing processes, then the scale tips toward physical, mental and emotional illness. This is because our bodies are not designed to swim in a bath of stress hormones all day, every day. And the very same physiological response that was designed to keep us alive in the face of threat, will break down every system in the body over time (e.g., immune, endocrine, digestive, hormonal).

“Our bodies are not designed to swim in a bath of stress hormones all day, every day.”

Burnout is characterized by three components:

Emotional exhaustion – the fatigue that comes from caring too much for too long

Depersonalization – the depletion of empathy, caring and compassion

Decreased sense of accomplishment – an unconquerable sense of futility; feeling that nothing you do makes any difference

Just a few weeks ago, I had the opportunity to share stories from my own experiences with empathetic leadership in action with the Let Her Lead: Established Leader Cohort. I also have the distinct privilege of mentoring one of these leaders as part of the program. And this is one of the key messages I shared with this group:

Your capacity to practice empathy is directly tied to your well-being.

Each of us carries within us a wellspring. A source of renewable energy. In order to maintain that wellspring, we require breath, food, water, movement, connection and rest.

When we are depleted, we will struggle to: manage our emotions, feel empathy, maintain curiosity, sustain realistic optimism (seeing the world as it is while also believing in our capacity to make something better), and maintain our sense of connection to each other and to the broader world. In other words, we will struggle to respond to others with empathy. Not because we are selfish, but because we are human.

When the world–whether that be your personal world or the world at large–feels overwhelming, remember this: In between stimulus and response, you have a choice. This is where your power lies.

Reach for the basics first. And tend gently to yourself (and your nervous system) until such time as you have refilled (and can maintain) your capacity to extend empathy, kindness and compassion to others.


For more resources related to empathy, burnout and well-being check out:

Booth Andrews Company Website

Brene Brown

Burnout: The Secret to Unlocking the Stress Cycle

The Power of Full Engagement

The Empathy Effect


Other Sources:

Fortune Well: Compassion fatigue explains why coworkers everywhere are so cranky. Here’s how to fix it

20+ Alarming Burnout Statistics [2023]: Stress and Lack of Motivation in the Workplace

40+ Statistics on Burnout in the Workplace You Can’t Ignore

National Library of Medicine: Moving from compassion fatigue to compassion resilience Part 2: Understanding compassion fatigue

Greater Good Magazine: Why the World Needs an Empathy Revolution

Center for Creative Leadership: The Importance of Empathy in the Workplace

About the author » Booth Andrews

Booth Andrews provides nourishing resources and support for the whole human(s) at the intersection of business and well-being. You can also listen to Booth on The Freedom from Empty Podcast.

Instagram: /theboothandrews

LinkedIn: /booth-andrews

Facebook: /boothandrews

Share This Story, Choose Your Platform!

More From Our Blog

Go to Top