In strategic communications, dominated by concerns about the use and meaning of words, messages, images, and symbols for strategic influence and effect, there is growing recognition of the importance of empathy, but a limited understanding of what it might look like. Defined in its simplest form as the attempt to understand the perspectives, experiences, and feelings of another, empathy is both a communicative and a performative act. Its value is dependent on its ability to be demonstrated and understood, and its power can be harnessed by governments to connect with a wider audience and develop more responsive policies.
This article examines the varied dynamics of empathy through the lens of American politics at domestic and international levels. It argues that empathy is a multifaceted and complex concept with transformative power, but also with practical and political limitations, which deserves far greater attention from strategic communications practitioners.
Keywords: empathy, politics, communication, United States, presidents, strategy
About the author
Claire Yorke is a doctoral researcher on empathy in diplomacy. She managed the International Security Research Department at Chatham House, and was a Parliamentary Researcher in the House of Commons, UK.
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