As we navigate the complexities and challenges of the 21st century, particularly in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, the practice of radical empathy has become more crucial than ever.

In a world marked by division, polarisation, and systemic inequalities, radical empathy offers a path towards healing, connection, and social transformation. It goes beyond the conventional notion of putting oneself in another’s shoes, instead advocating for a deep, holistic approach to understanding the experiences, perspectives, and emotions of others, particularly those who are different from us or who have faced oppression and marginalisation.

The term “radical empathy” was coined by Dr. Terri Givens, a political scientist and former provost at Menlo College. In her recent book, “Radical Empathy: Finding a Path to Bridging Racial Divides,” Givens defines radical empathy as “moving beyond understanding others from an intellectual perspective to a deeper, more holistic understanding that involves the heart and the mind” (Givens, 2021).

The COVID-19 Pandemic: Exposing Inequalities and Highlighting the Need for Radical Empathy

The COVID-19 pandemic has laid bare the deep inequalities and systemic injustices that pervade our society. Marginalised communities have been disproportionately impacted by the health and economic consequences of the pandemic (CDC, 2021). The pandemic has also exacerbated existing social divisions and highlighted the urgent need for empathy, understanding, and solidarity across differences.

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In this context, the practice of radical empathy becomes even more vital. By deeply listening to and understanding the experiences of those most affected by the pandemic, we can begin to build the bridges necessary for collective healing and transformation. Radical empathy challenges us to confront the uncomfortable realities of inequality and oppression, and to take action towards creating a more just and equitable world.

The Foundations of Radical Empathy

Radical empathy is rooted in the belief that all humans are inherently worthy of understanding and compassion. It recognizes that our experiences and identities are shaped by a complex interplay of personal, social, and systemic factors, and that truly understanding another person requires a willingness to engage with this complexity.

At its core, radical empathy involves:

1. Active listening: Fully presence to another person’s story, without judgment or interruption.

2. Perspective-taking: Striving to see the world through another’s eyes, acknowledging their unique experiences and context.

3. Emotional attunement: Connecting with and validating the feelings of others, even when they differ from our own.

4. Acknowledging privilege and oppression: Recognising how systems of power and privilege shape our experiences and interactions.

5. Cultivating curiosity: Approaching differences with openness and a desire to learn and understand.

The Power of Radical Empathy in Practice

When practiced authentically, radical empathy has the power to transform individuals, relationships, and communities. By deeply understanding the experiences of others, we can begin to bridge divides, challenge stereotypes, and build connections across differences (Greater Good Science Center, 2021).

In the context of the COVID-19 pandemic, radical empathy can help us to:

1. Understand and respond to the unique challenges and needs of marginalised groups and communities.

2. Build solidarity and collective power in the face of adversity.

3. Challenge the systemic inequalities and injustices exposed by the pandemic.

4. Foster a sense of shared humanity and interconnectedness, even in times of physical distancing.

5. Work towards a more equitable and compassionate post-pandemic world.

Cultivating Radical Empathy: A Lifelong Practice

Developing the capacity for radical empathy is a lifelong journey that requires ongoing commitment and practice. It involves cultivating mindfulness, self-awareness, and emotional intelligence, as well as a willingness to step outside our comfort zones and engage with different perspectives.

Some practical strategies for cultivating radical empathy include:

1. Practicing active listening and perspective-taking in daily interactions.

2. Seeking out stories and perspectives different from our own through books, media, and personal relationships.

3. Engaging in self-reflection to examine our own biases, privileges, and limitations.

4. Participating in diversity and anti-oppression training and education.

5. Cultivating mindfulness and emotional regulation skills to manage our own reactions and stay present with others.


As we continue to grapple with the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic and the longstanding inequalities it has laid bare, the practice of radical empathy has never been more important. By cultivating the capacity to deeply understand and connect with others, particularly those most marginalized and oppressed, we can begin to build a world of greater compassion, justice, and resilience.

The journey of radical empathy is not always easy, but it is essential for our individual and collective well-being. By opening our hearts and minds to the experiences of others, we not only enrich our own lives but also contribute to the healing and transformation of our world.

In these challenging times, let us commit to the ongoing practice of radical empathy. Let us listen deeply, challenge our assumptions, and work towards creating a world where all beings are seen, heard, and valued. In doing so, we can tap into the transformative power of deep understanding and connection, and build a future of greater compassion and justice for all.