November 6, 2015

Empathy reloaded: Interaction Designer Antonio Garcia at 45th monthly CreativeMornings in Chicago

Source: Kyle Eertmoed

At the 45th gathering of the Chicago chapter of CreativeMornings, interaction designer Antonio Garcia addressed the concept of “Empathy,” CreativeMornings’ global theme for August. His talk focused on truly understanding another person and what she or he is feeling, compared to the ease of being presumptive and condescending. To act in a hospitable manner. He issued a the tall order: “Be excellent to each other.” It serves as homework, for humans excel at behaving inconsistently, particularly toward each other.

Garcia is another vessel, among millions, for promoting the “Golden Rule.” In its popular form: “One should treat others as one would like others to treat oneself.” In its flipped form: “One should not treat others in ways that one would not like to be treated.” He echoed the maximum maxim that historians traced back to antiquity. The earliest iterations are from ancient Egypt:

“Now this is the command: Do to the doer to make him do.”
(circa 2040–c. 1650 BC)

“That which you hate to be done to you, do not do to another.”
(circa 664 BC–323 BC)

From ancient China:

“Never impose on others what you would not choose for yourself.”
—Confucius (circa 500 BC)

“Regard your neighbor’s gain as your own gain,
and your neighbor’s loss as your own loss.”
—Laozi (circa 500 BC)

From ancient India:

“…by self-control and by making dharma (right conduct)
your main focus, treat others as you treat yourself.”
—Epic “Mahābhārata” (circa 800–700 BC)

From ancient Greece:

“Avoid doing what you would blame others for doing.”
—Thales (circa 624 BC–546 BC)

“Do not do to others that which angers you when they do it to you.”
—Isocrates (circa 436–338 BC)

From ancient Persia:

“That nature alone is good which refrains from doing to another
whatsoever is not good for itself.”
—The Pahlavi Texts of Zoroastrianism (circa 300 BC—1000 AD)

Garcia is part of mass communicating a legacy-deep principle, a popular challenge to be mindful of, in practice. Yet, there were moments when Garcia himself sounded insensitive in his talk. While championing the importance of primary research, going into the field and talking with “end users” to help inform a project, he proclaimed another method of conducting group surveys as “stupid.” I thought about companies who rely on this activity in order to help, if anything, give access to findings that surveys, whether in the form of focus groups or not, can provide. How does Garcia’s quip affect all those who specialize in making and analyzing surveys, who make it their livelihood? Some input from end users, whether through surveys or not, can prove better than none.

The Golden Rule, like other virtuous aspirations, was never meant to be easy to execute moment to moment. But it is, to channel the pioneering computer scientist Alan Turing, a “differential equation,” not a “boundary condition.” As humans excel at doing and redoing, the drive to realize human solidarity remains relentless.

After Garcia’s talk, there was a tweet by creative director Will Miller, who made a presentation at the 22nd monthly gathering of CreativeMornings/Chicago (my write-up). Miller called Garcia “a hero to all!” My quick reaction: “Whaaaaat?” I associate such a noble label with people who directly save people’s lives. For example, recall Chris Mintz, an Army veteran, who helped save Umpqua Community College students from a gunman loose on its campus in Oregon on October 1, 2015. Mint even tried to minimize the dangerous situation by talking to the gunman. During his courageous engagement in bringing students and staff to safety, and his attempt to influence the gunman, Mintz was shot five times.

So, at first, I dismissed Miller’s accolade. Then dwelled upon it. Once my reaction simmered down, I thought about Garcia having accepted the invite to talk and offering his perspective, expressing a timeless theme, “Empathy,” and clarifying its potential benefits to a room filled by mostly strangers. I remembered former CreativeMornings/Toronto host Kyle Baptista’s testimony at the first CreativeMornings Summit (my recap). He shared his feelings on organizing and managing a CreativeMornings chapter:
“The biggest reward is sitting at the back and watching a room of 200 people. Some loving the talk. Some not loving it at all. And sometimes, it’s one person in a room of 200 who needed that talk, at that moment.”
Miller was that one person, like others, who needed Garcia’s talk. And still others who’ll view it online, who may be in need of Garcia’s talk. A timely need fulfilled can be described as “heroic.” A change, at whatever level, and however short-lived, in steering human behavior toward practicing and projecting the humane, the humanistic, can be taken as heroic. To borrow a much propagandized verb from the consulting world, empathy “scales.”(1)

It’s a reassuring fact that we live in world where empathy can be noticed and, at the same time, support the cautious confidence in humanity.

(1) As does karma.

• • •

Garcia is a member of “innovation consultancy” Gravity Tank, where the first gathering was held to launch CreativeMornings in Chicago. This was the 5th CreativeMornings chapter, established by Mig Reyes. From Brooklyn, New York, the inventor of CreativeMornings, Tina Roth Eisenberg, a.k.a. Swissmiss, gave a warm welcome in person. Jessica Hische and Veronica Corzo-Duchardt were in attendance. Read my write-up and photos.

• • •

“You never really understand a person until you consider things from his point of view—until you climb into his skin and walk around in it.”
—Harper Lee, Novelist, “To Kill a Mockingbird” (1960)

• • •

Big thanks: to BraintreeLeo Burnett Department of Design (Host), Onward SearchDeskpassNatalie’s Orchid Island Juice Company, for being Partners of monthly Chicago CreativeMornings #45; to organizers Kim Knoll and Kyle Eertmoed who both spoke at Chicago CreativeMornings #7; to the team of volunteers for greatly helping to make CreativeMornings happen monthly in Chicago.

Especially big thanks: to Tina Roth Eisenberg—Swissmiss—for inventing CreativeMornings in 2008. The fifth chapter was launched in Chicago, June 2011—my write-up and photos.

Read more about the people who make the Chicago chapter of CreativeMornings possible.
• • •

2011 was Chicago CreativeMornings’ debut year. Download the entire collection of selected insights.

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