Monday 10th June, 2013
I believe that empathy is a feeling of understanding, a feeling for others, it’s a beginning of a relationship.
As part of the creation of THE EMPATHY ROADSHOW, I’ve been doing filmed interviews with people for whom empathy is a key part of their daily lives. I ask them much the same things as I asked Christian Keysers, the neuroscientist. My first interview was with Marzena Forristal, a hairdresser in South London who runs WINK HAIR SALON. I asked her to define empathy and she talked about it as the ‘beginning of a relationship’. This is exactly what Christian said to me. He talked about its ability to push us out of scepticism and antagonism –
…for long enough to care about each other’s needs.
For just long enough to give each other a chance.
Marzena and I talked about the importance of these connections between us, how they sustain and enable – and how sometimes empathy is the service someone comes to the hairdresser for, more than the cut.
There’s a number of people who come for a trim and they ask for a
third of an inch and they just come for… some form of togetherness, for intimacy.
I suddenly remembered going to the hairdressers with my mother, as a child, seeing women who – in those days – came in every week for a ‘shampoo and set’ – sometimes to include a pink, blue or lilac rinse. I can hardly believe now that a significant proportion of older women where I grew up in the 1970s and 1980s were walking around with purple and pink hair – but they were! I remember looking around at them through the mirror, as I had my hair cut, and thinking ‘I know why you’re here’ … not just for the haircut, but for that feeling of intimacy, of being listened to – for that empathic connection.