Empathy matters: Making art in an unkind world

If you turn on the news and find yourself feeling helpless—yeah, us too. We want to say something—do anything—to send comfort and good into the world. So we asked our friend, Hallmark Writer Melvina Y., for some words of advice for using our creativity to be a better ally. Hint: Empathy matters.

Empathy matters: Illustration of two arms holding hands in the shape of a heart.

Like a lot of people last weekend I sat stunned and heartbroken at the images of rage, hatred, and violence my social media kept feeding me. As my heart fractured into little glass splinters I caught myself thinking, “The world is going crazy…and there’s nothing I can do about it.”

I was tempted towards hopelessness as those images from Charlottesville brought back memories of my own childhood begun in racial segregation, where I was reminded every. single. day that some people had closed and locked the door on my humanity just because of the color of my skin.

I was lured towards fear as I began formulating my response to the inevitable question that came from my young daughter, “Mom, could that happen here? Could they come for us?”

I was ensnared by sadness as I heard about the brutality that took the life of young Heather Heyer and injured so many others.

And, again I caught myself thinking, “There’s nothing I can do.”

Except that’s not true. I can do something about it, particularly as a creative.

As Creatives, we are translators

of our human experiences.

We make things that have meaning.

We help make the world make sense.

We help bring poetic order to the chaos.

Through our creativity we can

connect one human being to another.


And, I believe, we can connect human beings across our differences.

Not by ignoring difference but by building bridges of understanding over which we all can cross.


As Creatives we are uniquely gifted to unleash the power of empathy in a world that’s feeling particularly hard and mean, in a world that’s feeling particularly disconnected because of fear, mistrust, and hatred.

Now. I don’t mean sympathy, which means feeling sorry for someone else. I mean empathy, learning to know each other with compassion so that we can more fully understand each other as human beings.



If we want to make a difference, empathy is a vital force for that change.

Empathy matters when people—religious minorities, LGBTQ and communities of color in particular—are experiencing sadness, anxiety, surges of medically diagnosed psychological trauma, and even physical danger as our nation fights over big social issues. When some people have shown an appalling willingness to hurt others. When we seem to have less understanding of one another than ever.

All Creatives tell human stories through our art, craft, stitch-work, photography, poetry, prose, playwriting, blogging, or whatever we do.

We can bring different human stories from the background to the center stage so that other people can begin to see them, to understand them, to respect them, and to embrace them.

We can create new ways of seeing and new means of knowing one another. We can do that for good—against the hateful forces that have been unleashed. We can do that to build and shore up hope. We can do that to make change.

But how do we start? This is SO big, right?


I say we begin by deepening our own sense of empathy first. By being brave enough to go out and learn some things we don’t know about other people who are different from us.

Years ago, when I was an undergraduate in a predominately white college town, I met a young white man who’d come from an all-white town and “couldn’t see racism” despite a wave of violent racial incidents against students of color on campus. He wasn’t being mean or hateful. He was just operating on how he knew the world to be.

So, I challenged him to hold my hand and walk with me from the campus mall down the main street.

He was in no way prepared to be stared at the way we were, or for some of the ugly comments that we got from some other white people. He was not prepared to feel afraid in a world he’d always felt safe in. That experience changed his perspective.


In that same way I challenge us to reach out for new hands to hold, to go beyond our familiar spaces, to deliberately break out of our familiar circles so that we can broaden our experiences with others and thereby widen our understanding.


Once we travel beyond our own “familiar” to learn and explore, it’s time to show others through our art what we’ve found. Then we can bring other people to the threshold of empathy and invite them to cross.

We can help Christians who’ve never had to worry about showing up for religious service to face armed protestors see what that might feel like for Muslims.

We can help white parents who have all the usual loving worries for their children see what it might feel like to have the added ones that black parents do.

We can help people outside the LGBTQ community understand what it might feel like to have your right to marry and protect your children threatened.

We can help people who may not get it to see what it might feel like to watch marches for hatred in the streets and know that hatred is meant expressly for you.


Each one of us deserves to be known and respected as a human being in all of our dimensions. This is what Creatives can give uniquely—love, respect, and empathy through our art.

So, let your brush tell brave truths. Let your pen start hard but honest conversations. Let your sewing hand stitch stories of sorrow, struggle, hope, and empowerment. Send your lens out to capture narratives that need to be seen so that they can be believed. Write and sing songs of empathy that can fall on many ears.

We are Creatives. We can pick up our art and do something.


So how do you reach out? How can you start a conversation? Try “My heart is breaking. Can we talk? I don’t need you to teach me anything or fix anything for me. That’s my work to do. I just want to be here to listen and understand and stand by you.” OR “Hey, wanna grab a beer sometime? Your choice of place.” OR “Come sit at my table! I’ll make you food.” OR “I care. And, I’m here.”

The Hallmark Writing Studio recently wrapped up a project to create shareable messages of love, understanding and civility. You’ll find those here. We’ve also made the design in this post into a downloadable 8″x10″ print.




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