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Empathy: How it can re-establish the connection between people

We invite IB Diploma Programme (DP) graduates to reflect on their lives and studies. Kristen Leer received her diploma from Ronald Reagan High School, US. Learn more about the IB Alumni Network at ibo.org/alumni.

By Kristen Leer

There is something different between our 21st century existence and that of the past. The way that people interact and how they connect with each other has changed. And these changes are influencing people and their actions in drastic ways. The type of communication presented through these new interactions seems to be eroding trust and breaking the connections between people and their society.

This raises concern for the younger generation, how are they to adapt to these changes and cope with exposure to conflict in the comfort of their own home and community? This question can build onto others – the question of the impact on not only their lives but their education, their family, and future relationships. There is something, a common tool that every person can hone and master. It seems to be easily forgotten when confronted with these aforementioned challenges, but it could be the one thing that proves to be the most helpful. This tool is empathy.

Empathy is not to be confused with sympathy.  Sympathy is the acknowledgment of one’s actions or feelings. Empathy is more powerful, it is the understanding of another’s purpose because of the idea that you are personally experiencing it with them, in their shoes.

Empathy is a gateway to developing a connection, a relationship. It is one of the most crucial things needed for survival, connections and guidance. For some kids, it’s very hard to find. To have a relationship with their parents, their teachers, their friends, and those involved with jobs and school can teach them and enhance them for when they are dependent on only themselves.

Being such a crucial tool, when conflict arises it seems to be lost during the struggle. Where there are only sides, no in-betweens, no negotiating or trying to reason, this is when bringing people together, helping them, isn’t the goal anymore and pulls everyone further apart.

Empathy isn’t something that can solve a problem, it is a tool to allow people to open their eyes, their ears, and their hearts to those that need it or may not know they need it.

The benefits of empathy may still be confusing for some. The following bullet points show why as humans it is unquestionably important to develop empathy as a natural skill.

  • Empathy will help us to understand the needs and situations of the people around us.
  • One will be more likely to treat those the way one want to be treated.
  • More open to connections and relationships with the people around us, and more beneficial to learning and new experiences.
  • Communication and listening skills will become stronger, learning to closely read what a person is really saying, instead of making assumptions.
  • Empathy humanizes the ‘other’, instead of creating distance with something that is beneath us.

These are just a few of the benefits where empathy can maximize the development of understanding other people. This is important when trying to create relationships and connections between each other. Empathy is also good for inquiry into a person’s work, action, or words.

Empathy isn’t something that can solve a problem, it is a tool to allow people to open their eyes, their ears, and their hearts to those that need it or may not know they need it. It opens people to be more connected and knowledgeable to other people, even if they aren’t in agreement about their beliefs or ideas or lives. It’s a stepping stone to not only be connected but to grow as a good human being. And we all know that we need a lot more of those in this world.


Diploma Programme graduate Kristen Leer (also known as K.A. Leer) is from the United States and is a Milwaukee, Wisconsin native. She has a passion to help and be engaged with her community.

Leer believes there is a story in everyone that needs to be heard and her writing is dedicated to revealing the tribulations of humanity that are often forgotten. She is currently studying psychology and plans to pursue a PhD.

Have a great story to tell? Write to alumni.relations@ibo.org and learn more about the IB Alumni Network at ibo.org/alumni.