Picture yourself as your mother as she takes you to school for the first time. You are clutching a nervous small hand. You whisper softly to your baby girl telling her through her tears that she’s going to have a great day. You tell her everything is going to be okay. This is the visual exercise and role reversal that kicks off a newly launched empathy workshop called The Yellow Label and Sticky Note Exchange – the central idea of which is to take participants through a set of exercises to help them see the world through other people’s eyes.
The starting point of the workshop drills into the relationship between a mother and a child. From there, it shifts to planting seeds of empathy and compassion for acquaintances, colleagues and strangers.
The workshop is a collaborative project between interdisciplinary artist Sue Pam Grant, actor Lesedi Job and business psychologist Paul Bushell.
The trio say they fell into the partnership that’s become the Yellow Label and Sticky Note Exchange because they were all articulating the same thing: the thinking that empathy in action could be the greatest secret power of our time.
“Empathy as a tool for conflict resolution is a rising global trend. People are realising that we have to see with different eyes, hear with different ears. Everything has to be turned on its head if we are to understand the different worlds that others live in.
“We are dealing with so much conflict and rage all around us. In workplaces it’s racism, gender discrimination, bullying, power inequalities and passive aggression. We have to awaken creative, intuitive ways to find solutions to deal with these complex scenarios,” said Sue Pam Grant.
Over four hours, the three facilitators guide participants using role play, visualisation, letter writing, drawing and the power of song. The goal is to coax participants into recognising their personal hurts, strengths and triggers.
This personal reflection lays the foundation to hone skills of listening, which in turn opens doors to developing caring and compassion, they say.
For Lesedi Job, as participants learn to listen to their own inner voices, they learn to invest in themselves in terms of time and space. Pausing in this way and practising deep listening, she said, unlocks something; it allows people to open up, to be seen, to be vulnerable even.
“Feeling exposed without fear is not something we should think of as a bad thing. It opens doors to empathy,” she said.
Paul Bushell believes empathy is a push back against a world that has become obsessed with technology and competitiveness.
“Our era of technology and needing to thrive in competitive environments can be positive, but it can also have a dark side: the destructive impact of making us feel neglected. It makes us lose our humanness,” said Bushell, adding that empathy is at the heart of dealing with change and conflict and also in nurturing creativity and developing caring.
The Yellow Label and Sticky Notes Exchange is not a magic bullet, not a panacea to all the world’s problems. But it is about rousing our sensitivity to the fact that we possess an extraordinary gift in empathy.