Colleen's thoughts on writing, directing and coaching, and her unique take on life itself!

Friday, December 22, 2006


Something I've been thinking a lot about lately: Empathy.

Actors need to have empathy for the characters they portray - down to his or her bone marrow, whether they're loving, kind, generous, sexy, obnoxious, judgemental, mean, heartless or beastly.

Another word for practicing constructive empathy is compassion. It's the ability to have a degree of understanding how another person feels. What motivates them, what they yearn for. When we are capable of understanding these things, our relationships grow closer.

It's like a relationship mirror: reflecting how that other person feels.

Interestingly, while we're expected to either naturally have it - or be missing the "gene" - empathy can be learned.

According to studies, if we have parents who are not empathetic, we won't be. If we realize we're not empathetic, ideally, we'd want to change that in order to experience the world empathetically because we'd attract more people who would relate to us positively and compassionately.

I believe a lot of people who study acting with me - especially men - do it to get in closer touch with their feelings - perhaps especially empathy and compassion. Not just for others, but themselves.

Caring for someone - including ourselves - normally includes these qualities. Friendship or any close relationship is usually distinguished by a degree of empathy or compassion for each other because it enhances a sense of closeness.

Without empathy/compassion, there is no genuine relationship.

One book I highly recommend is The Power of Empathy by Arthur P. Ciaramicoli and Katherine Ketcham.

It outlines constructive and destructive empathy.

Constructive empathy emanates from wanting to be a more understanding, caring person.

Destructive empathy is practiced by someone who believes she or he is more important than others around them ("the center of the universe") and only deal with people they see as "useful" to them in some way.

People with constructive empathy have more self awareness.

Those practicing destructive empathy tend to be defensive, project their own negative thoughts and feelings onto others and do not taking responsibility for their behavior.

Empathy - whether we have it or not, and if we do have it - constructive or destructive - is such an influential part of who we are, it's crucial to understand its relation to us as individuals and if we're creating and/or portraying a character.

Understanding ourselves and our relationship to empathy is healthy for us personally - as individuals - and everyone with whom we relate.

Understanding how empathy influences our character and makes him or her tick is basic to character development for the writer, performer, director, artist or actor.


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