This experience in my life reinforces my belief in the mysterious connections that link individuals to each other despite their vast differences. No amount of political correctness can make us empathize with a child left orphaned in Darfur or a woman taken to a football stadium in Kabul and shot to death because she is improperly dressed. Only curiosity about the fate of others, the ability to put ourselves in their shoes, and the will to enter their world through the magic of imagination, creates this shock of recognition. Without this empathy there can be no genuine dialogue, and we as individuals and nations will remain isolated and alien, segregated and fragmented.
There’s a really good book that was written way back in 1944 called The Unwritten Laws of Engineering . It was published by the American Society of Mechanical Engineers and the language in the book is quite dated (parts of it read like a crotchety old guy yelling at kids to get off his lawn), but the ideas in the book still apply very much today and even to software engineering. It’s really about people, and fundamentally, people don’t change. One of the ideas in the book is this notion which I call communication impact . I’ve taken a quote from the book which I think highlights this idea (emphasis mine):
Empathy seems to have deep roots in our brains and bodies, and in our evolutionary history . Elementary forms of empathy have been observed in our primate relatives , in dogs , and even in rats . Empathy has been associated with two different pathways in the brain, and scientists have speculated that some aspects of empathy can be traced to mirror neurons , cells in the brain that fire when we observe someone else perform an action in much the same way that they would fire if we performed that action ourselves. Research has also uncovered evidence of a genetic basis to empathy , though studies suggest that people can enhance (or restrict) their natural empathic abilities.