What is Empathy? The Seven Precepts

The river is wide, and my boat is so small…

At the behest of friend Kevin Vixie, I worked my longer book into a shorter version, titled ‘The Power of Empathy in Leadership in an Evolving World’.

Inside this document, I’ve distilled much of my work describing empathy down to Seven Precepts. They are pretty comprehensive, and a great place to start with a better understanding of empathy and its organizational requirements. They are:

  1. Empathy rules relationships.
  2. Safety is the foundation of empathy.
  3. Empathy is a function of structure.
  4. Empathy catalyzes synergy.
  5. Empathy handles complexity well.
  6. Empathy governs tool (and process) selection.
  7. Different empathy levels are tied to different values.

You can download the whole document below — it’s about 25 pages. It is solid — I decomplexified it compared to other pieces on this blog. Kind of like Dr. Seuss writing The Cat in the Hat, a lot of these concepts are not easy, and writing and rewriting them was, as good Dr. described it, “like being trapped with a witch in the Tunnel of Love.” It wasn’t easy.

I want to keep this short — and there’s tons of supporting posts in the Readers Guide. Go to the Fundamentals section — they’re pretty tight. But the short takeaway for those asking ‘What is Empathy?’ is that it is how humans (and other sentient beings) connect. It involves mirroring, feeling through, thinking through, and reflecting on all the aspects of connection.

And it is a stacked, nested complex phenomenon. It’s not simply ‘feeling’ for someone, or even worse, ‘feeling sorry’ for someone. That’s sympathy. And it stacks through our automatic, emotional and cognitive centers. Empathy, and how it manifests itself, is THE information coherence function for humans, and consequently, social networks. It, dependent on the level of development of the individuals, is the nuts-and-bolts of how the collective over-mind functions.

How it works is an enormous academic blind spot. This blog (and my work) intends to fill this blind spot in. The diagram below is a good start.

(A tip of the hat to Frans de Waal for coming up with the original empathy pyramid. Mine is considerably modified, but credit where credit is due!)

12 thoughts on “What is Empathy? The Seven Precepts

  1. I watched the video and read the blurbs on empathy. Well done! Empathy is oxygen for the soul – so if one is feeling short of breath due to stress, then just maybe one needs expanded empathy. Get some here!


    1. Hope you have fun exploring, Lou — nice to have someone as distinguished as yourself reviewing my work. There are some very interesting things that have potential for real revolution in perception of how we create and understand knowledge from Conway’s Law and my extension that I’m calling the Intermediate Corollary. Let me know what you don’t like as well — I work, to some degree, in a bubble, and am looking for a broader community. Plenty of experience and heuristics — this stuff doesn’t come from nowhere, but in need of discussion and review.


      1. China’s social structure is exactly the reason it lost out on the Industrial Revolution relative to the West — manufacturing requires peer-to-peer information exchange, and for this to work, people have to have empathy and some agency, or else it just doesn’t work. I also think that manufacturing is driving social development in China currently, precisely for this reason. That and the One Child Policy — because the old family networks simply don’t exist in the strength they used to. So it’s a good time to talk about SD in China!


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