9 TED Talks that celebrate Empathy and Diversity

by Eduardo Estellita on maio 8, 2014

In the previous post, you’ve discovered my 9 favorite TED talks about identity. Today, we’ll continue the journey of awareness and growth by exploring my top 9 TED about empathy and diversity.

My goal here is double.

First, to make you experience the transformative power of empathy both on individual and societal level. Whether we apply it within our families, in the workplace, in our creative endeavors or in our militant actions, welcoming our differences and empathizing with our presumed persecutors or victims is the most sustainable path towards change.

Secondly, to show you once again the circular relationship between identity and empathy. If “my rights end where yours begin”, the same holds for empathy and identity. Empathy is nothing else but an act of acknowledgement of the other’s identity. The beautiful part is that by empathizing with the other I give myself the permission to assert my own identity (even if just by the experience of the contrast between us).

Sounds esoteric? I’m sure the following videos will help…


  1. Andrew Solomon: Love no matter what

Is empathy the first expression of authentic love?

What do deaf, gay, dwarf, Down, transgender and prodigy children have in common? In a viscerally touching talk, Andrew Solomon draws the difference between vertical identity (passed down from parent to child) and horizontal identity (alien to the parents and discovered through a peer group). While for the former there’s no attempt from society or the family for a cure, for the latter an internal struggle between validation and cure is a common concern for parents.

After spending a decade interviewing parents, Solomon shares their struggle to accept their children’s fate while devoting lots of energy to ensure their children’s well-being. From each parent’s testimony, a common lesson appears: a lesson about the transformative power of empathy, the purpose found in loving our children for their differences and the importance of preserving an ecosystem of diverse talents when medical progress threatens to extinguish them.


  1. Ben Dunlap: The life-long learner

Professor Ben Dunlap shares us the rich stories of three Hungarian men, each a testimony to human connection, unbounded curiosity and belief in the goodness of people. The story of Sandor Teszler, a man who miraculously survived the Holocaust and who in the early 60s opened an integrated textile plant in the most racist region of North Carolina, still remains in my mind years after watching the video for the first time. It’s the story of a man who fought oppression with kindness and who proved the healing power of empathy through cohabitation to an entire community. Yo napot, Sandor!


  1. iO Tillett Wright: 50 shades of gay

iO Tillet Wright grew up as a “tomboy”, often jumping the rope between both sexual identity and sexual orientation categories. In this talk, she presents her efforts to increase empathy and awareness to the extreme diversity of human experience.

As Russia and many other countries retreat to dogma and scapegoating, LGBT rights presents itself as the 21st century global debate. This is the one type of diversity that has the power to shift philosophical, religious and political paradigms. It concerns everyone as it holds the power of preventing 20th century atrocities of repeating themselves.


  1. Shea Hembrey: How I became 100 artists

What is the creative power of empathy?

In a hilarious talk, artist Shea Hembrey shows the amazing diversity of art expression one can achieve by stepping into someone else’s shoes. The result is a biennial event composed of 100 endearing artist, whose biographies and artwork have been fully created by him.


  1. Susan Cain: The power of introverts

Up to par with Brené Brown’s studies on vulnerability, Susan Cain’s 7-year research on the power of introverts is in my opinion one of the most important minority studies of the last decade. Her book “Quiet” is definitely worth the read and it transpires with the sensibility, nuance and attention to detail of a true introvert.

By mixing stories with research, her TED talk summarizes some of the main takeaways and sends an important message of empathy. What I find beautiful about Susan’s work is that it sheds light to most of the extraversion biases in our society without pointing fingers or diminishing the contributions of extroverts. Her message is one of inclusion not divisiveness, of the power of diversity when we capitalize on individual preferences and talents.


  1. Devdutt Pattanaik: East VS West

As Pico Yier presents us a globally mobile world, where borders and origins blur, an important question remains: how do we navigate this stark cultural and philosophical difference in our daily life? How do we do business with the other part of the world whose History diverged from ours for so long?

Through unforgettable and meaningful myths and stories, Devdutt Pattanaik enlightens us in the path of merging these paradoxical worldviews: the world of linear singularity and the world of cyclical infinity.


  1. Ernesto Sirolli: Want to help someone? Shut up and listen

 Ernesto Sirolli talk hit me so strongly that we chose it to open our TEDxLouvainLaNeuve event. Also, I had the opportunity to meet him personally and attend one of his high-energy small seminars on Entreprise Facilitation.

His most striking trait is a pair of eyes sparkling with a true and connected passion for economic development, finding talent and changing lives. His biggest life discovery is that no one makes it alone, so he brings people together.

Above all, his talk is about accepting and leveraging diversity. In order to help the other, one must be ready to step into their world (cognitive empathy), to listen actively and to believe that they already have in them the resources to find the best solution (a value system identical to coaching). It’s the victory of the essence over the ego!


  1. Joshua Prager: In search of the man who broke my neck

In a very personal and touching talk, Joshua Prager shares the story of the most difficult empathic journey one can take: empathizing with the enemy. This is not a story of compassion or forgiveness, it’s a story of acceptance. Acceptance of our destinies and of the limitations of others. It’s a story that portrays empathy in its truest form, unconstrained by our expectations of how others should behave.

Finally, Joshua tells us the story of how part of our identity is redefined in the blink of an eye, while another gradually grows through our empathic experiences.


  1. Katryn Schulz: On being wrong

Katryn Schulz is the world leading expert in “wrongology”, the study of our reactions to being wrong. And probably the only one.

The connection between her talk and empathy is a crucial one: as long as we’re not able to accept being wrong, we cannot be open to the other. Essentially, empathy is about handling disagreements, creating a space for difference to be externalized and holding paradoxical views simultaneously. Without antithesis, there’s no synthesis!

To wonder and merge the myriad of our constructed realities and to find therein a home is the key to empathy, a shape-shifting identity and a fulfilled life.

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