Diana Castle: Acting is all too often thought of and even encouraged to be a narcissistic profession – and yes, there are plenty of cultural narcissists today. However the truth in the art of acting is to be found in the heart of empathy. A great actor is that human being who is willing to exchange his or her personal interpretive framework for an alternative interpretive framework, or as Atticus Finch said in To Kill A Mockingbird, to walk a mile in another person’s shoes.
We learn and experience more about ourselves from accepting other people’s stories as a possibility for us. Accepting the human story as our own, I call “living from the I AM.” When we accept every part as a part of us, we learn to live a more integrated, whole-hearted life. The art of acting is living from imagined possibility and so is the art of empathy.
CW: Why is empathy so important – not just for acting, but for life in general?
DC: There would be less fighting with each other and more dialogue, education and cultural exchange. As we widen our empathetic embrace, we widen our experience of the world. That’s what happens when we go see a movie or a play or read a book that affects us emotionally.
The individual strings of our independent identity are only parts reflecting the whole. If we lose our capacity to put ourselves into other peoples shoes, we lose our capacity to experience what is the truth of our inter-relatedness and interdependence. When we lose that, we lose our connection to the fact that if we try to destroy others we only destroy ourselves. This includes our environment which is a reflection of our empathetic embrace as well.
CW: Is it hard to practice empathy? As you say, the world would be a very different place if everyone lived intentionally and empathetically. What gets in our way?
DC: Our Ego. Our Ego is vital of course for discerning: “I’m in here and you’re out there.” However, neuroscience now teaches us that if you lose your arm and have phantom limb pain and someone sits in front of you, mirroring you, and gets their arm massaged, your phantom limb gets relief!
Shakespeare’s advice to the players in Hamlet when he encourages them to “hold the mirror up to nature” should now be thought of as holding the “mirror neurons” up to nature! This is the amazing truth of life. What happens to you actually is happening to me.
Read more about Mastering Empathy!
The Mastering Empathy video is the courtesy of TheChopraWell!