Empathy. “Regardless of one’s intellectual understanding, genuine existential understanding is not possible without empathy, i.e., the projection of one’s consciousness into that of another being. Its development and use demand an attitude of impersonality and selfforgetfulness; it can be achieved by actively arousing, or letting oneself be pervaded by, an absorbing human interest in the person one wills to understand. It means approaching him or her with sympathy, with respect, even with wonder, as a “Thou” and thus establishing a deeper inner relationship.
This approach can deepen until it becomes first a living contact, and then a momentary or temporary identification. One can imagine oneself as having become – as being – that person. One can try to realize his thoughts, his feelings; picture oneself in various conditions and situations and evoke his mental and emotional reactions to them. Such empathy is made possible by the fact of the essential unity of human nature existing beneath, and in spite of, all individual and group diversities. In each of us there are, potentially, all the elements and qualities of the human being, the germs of all virtues and of all vices. In each of us there are the potential criminal and the potential saint or hero. It is a question of different development, valuation, choice, control, and expression.
Training in empathy not only helps one acquire a true understanding of others, but also bestows a wider humanness. It gives an insight into the wonder and mystery of human nature, in which so many and such contrasting elements are found side by side; the core of goodness and the possibilities for change existing in the criminal, as well as the foibles, imperfections, and primitive drives to be found in every great man.”
Roberto Assagioli, The Act of Will, s. 88-89, 155