Home > Crafting > About crafting, empathy and resilience (part V)

About crafting, empathy and resilience (part V)

Crafting furthers empathy

As I explained in post 2, crafters are fascinated by the material they work with and what it enables them to do. This shared fascination unites people. Looking over the shoulder and trying to understand (see post 3) what others are doing touches the core of crafting, and requires considerable empathy.

Why empathy? Because understanding what somebody else is trying to achieve involves the capacity to ‘get under the skin’ and form an idea of that person’s mental life. Doing so will clarify the intentions, first of all to the ’empathiser’, but quite often to the owner as well.

But empathy is not like taking over someone’s mental life. One should not even sympathise with or respond favourably to it. It’s definitely no ‘sentimental weakness’. A deferent distance between you and the life of someone else remains in place at all times. One might momentarily identify with it, but only make-believedly so.

Hence, understanding someone’s work requires empathy. However, though the capacity to empathise might be some kind of natural gift, it’s not a thing that lies ready for use at all times. I recently heard someone defend (Daniel Goldstein in a TED talk: The battle between the present and your future self’) that discipline is like a muscle that can be trained. Acting with discipline becomes more easy with regular exercise.

The same goes for empathy. Exercising empathy trains that mental muscle. And crafting – specifically attempting to understand the work of others – is an excellent breeding ground. Why is that so? Because understanding a craftwork demands a combination of skills characterising empathy. I mean curiosity, openness and humility (not being bothered by prejudice), patience, discipline and there might be some others.

It leads no doubt that exerting empathy in understanding craft-works unites us closer to other crafters. First, of course, to people practising our craft. Second, to people at home in other crafts. But finally, it makes a huge leap to all human beings. Empathy has the spontaneous tendency to spill over to realms unrelated to crafting. I presume that’s due to the open-mindedness that is so peculiar to empathy. Other realms might be psychological, sociological, you name it.

Now of course, it would be rather small-minded and self-limiting to see only crafting as the place to exercise empathy. There are others, of course, and gladly so. I only wanted to defend here that crafting is an excellent place to start.

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Categories: Crafting
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