By Edmund Connolly, on 21 August 2012
“We must learn to regard people less in the light of what they do or omit to do, and more in the light of what they suffer.”
Although I may be hedging my bets by opening my first ever blog post with a quotation, I consider it suitably apt for the topic of creating empathy within the museum space. I recently met Roman Krznaric (founder of the School of Life) who has created the Museum of Empathy model, a space which, rather than just educating its visitors, encourages them to empathise with the denoted culture. This may be a case of understanding the labour and wage paid to go into the cup of coffee you drink, to facing the cruelties of enduring a hurricane.
I must admit, at first I was not entirely sold on the idea, I failed to see why a museum needed to impose empathy on its visitors. Empathy is a very intimate, personal reaction, for a third party to dictate to me that I should be feeling empathy at a certain point in time jars painfully with all my British stiff upperlip-ness. For me, museums are places of education, beauty and self discovery, but it is precisely for these reasons that empathy is rendered so important a facet of the museum culture. Museums have become the medium of choice to discuss contemporary, community and even future issues that relate directly to the viewing public. They are no longer silent halls where times new roman boards dictate the meaning, dating or interpretation of objects; Museums are alive, changing and inspiring thought, but can they help one to empathise with the civilizations they define? (more…)