Empathy and compassion are among the distinctive capabilities of humans. Empathy is when we are able to imagine what someone else is going through. Compassion is the ability to act on that knowledge. These twin capabilities underlie successful relationships because they lead directly towards understanding and connection.
The challenge with empathy is being able to imagine the world through someone else’s eyes. We do not have access to another’s feelings, thoughts, and experiences, just expressed behavior. But when we do have this access, the human response is direct and immediate. A commercial from the Cleveland Clinic illustrates this in a health care setting.
We see not only the individual, but also the thought bubble expressing their feeling. Immediately we realize what they are going through. A stranger suddenly becomes human and vulnerable, deserving of our compassion and kindness. As the commercial continues, we meet a succession of people, each with their own story and issue. We realize that each person in the hospital, whether a visitor, patient, or care-giver, is human and alive with emotions like happiness, fear, anticipation, grief, hope, or love. It is a small step to extend this insight into our daily lives and realize that every human being we meet, is similarly alive with feelings and emotions. Even if we are not able to see through their eyes, we can recognize that they have a life worthy of our kindness and support.
Inside Out, brings alive in true Pixar style the emotions inside the mind of an 11 year old girl, Riley, who has moved from Minnesota to San Francisco. Inside the control center of her mind, at Headquarters, are the key emotions – Joy, Sadness, Fear, Disgust and Anger – that guide her through her day and life. The change in her circumstances with a new home, school and city, results in emotions gone awry. The signature achievement of the story is to seamlessly switch between the external world of home and school and the internal world of Riley’s mind, and show how each affects the other. The key emotions are humanized, interact with each other and are voiced by a stellar cast. As the story proceeds, we understand why we need each emotion, and the role each emotion plays in making us human. Inside Out is a superbly entertaining view into how much we owe to our emotions and our ability to understand each other.