Empathy and the study of empathic learning has recently become more prevalent in my life than ever before. I write this because not only have I been doing a lot of research on empathic learning for my internship, which promotes educational narrative films as a means for fostering historical and social empathy, but I also believe that the power of storytelling and filmmaking in essence revolves around the power of empathy, the ability to understand and share the feelings of another.
As a filmmaker, I find it important to remind myself of this on a daily basis. The reason so, is that it’s easy to get caught up in the everyday controlled chaos that is the filmmaking process. Sometimes you forget the “why”, and constantly ask yourself why am I doing this? Before going to grad school, I asked myself this question all the time while I was working in the legal industry and pushing papers non-stop. I find it extremely important to explore the “why” as I’m faced with new challenges everyday.
Humans have the amazing ability to be empathetic, but it’s important to recognize that empathy must also be taught and learned. As I do more research on empathic learning, I’m finding that more and more teachers are incorporating it into their pedagogies. Some say it’s the future trend in education, which is where I find so much hope. While the current U.S. administration under Trump is pushing forward xenophobic policies and hateful rhetoric, it’s more important now than ever to teach young people more about empathy, a step in the right direction towards a greater goal of social equity. In addition, in studying empathic learning in the classroom, Mangione highlights “the concept of embodied narrative engagement which refers to the importance of storytelling in “achieving high levels of motivation and engagement in the classroom” Mangione et al. (2013).
Empathic learning has a place in pedagogy, but it also has a place in the film industry. Considering the power of storytelling is to build empathy, I believe it’s important as a filmmaker to practice empathy and incorporate it in my approach to producing. By having empathy as a part of my mindset, I find it easier to collaborate with others while fostering a better learning environment, which can lead to better results on so many levels.
What attracted me to Columbia’s MFA program in the first place is their emphasis on producing narrative films that are character-driven. Empathy is key to good storytelling, and my goal as a content producer and filmmaker is to maintain a commitment to empathy and authenticity. I hope to never forget the night when Meryl Streep gave a powerful, emotional speech about the power of diversity and empathy at the Golden Globes in January of 2017. She said, “an actor’s only job is to enter the lives of people who are different from us and let you feel what that feels like.” I believe that process and the human ability to do that is amazing, powerful, and truly transformative.