Composure: Empathy

By Kyle Studstill.

If we are to do our best work in the face of constant chaos and change, perhaps we must first hone our inner virtues as guidance. Composure produces an ongoing series of reflections, guided by creative works that foster specific kinds of perspective. This week, empathy.


Hearing Voices, image via Katrin Baumgarten

Hearing Voices is an installation created by Katrin Baumgarten, a multisensory experience of the lives lived by those who suffer from auditory hallucinations. Drawing from research indicating that “these often distressing voices are not caused by a malfunction of the brain, but should be understood as a variation in human behaviour, like being left-handed,” experiencing Katrin’s work allows one to conjure the empathy required to not just understand, but to fully relate.

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My Personal Den, image via Mariana Mourato

Sarah Wachter-Boettcher runs the design & communication publication A List Apart. And she’s found that for those who make products, fostering empathy is more important than ever. Easier said than done, she notes: “We can’t begin being empathetic when another person arrives. We have to already have made a space in our lives where empathy can thrive. And that means being open—truly open—to feeling emotions we may not want to feel.”

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image via Jean-Paul Berthoin

It’s worth repeating that empathy requires us to confront our own vulnerability, to experience emotions that make us truly uncomfortable. So important, it seems, that Giles Walker spent a year recording the stories of London’s homeless, programming them into an animated figure. Perhaps his work makes it clear just how difficult genuine human connection really is. “As I watch him in action on the streets, it’s not hard to miss the irony… people will stop and listen to a homeless ‘robot,’ but few give the same time to the real thing.

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Kyle Studstill
Instagram: @alwayscomposure

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