Cassandra Bonn had the pleasure of introducing Dr. Julie Gowthorpe, who she described as a leader in making relationships work.  Her team helps people in Belleville work through obstacles such as PTSD, depression and anxiety.  Dr. Gowthorpe grew up locally, graduated from Moira Secondary and from there earned her PhD in social work.  She published a book entitled “Tainted Love” to assist people through divorce and has written numerous other articles.  She also speaks at local events and Mix 97.  A fun fact -- her great uncle is Jack Parrott, a former member of the Club for 44 years.  Her topic is “empathy attitude and why it matters”.
Dr. Gowthorpe's talk focused on what is essential during these times, with all the uncertainty relating to the economy, the pandemic, race relations and politics.  There is lots happening in the world.  To understand the experience of others is as important as ever before.  How do we increase understanding?  Through empathy.  It’s talked about a lot – it is the cornerstone of emotional intelligence.  You hear about that so much in business and work like hers.  What is getting in the way of how people connect?  That is crucial to understanding it.  Empathy creates the power to bridge sides, soften opposition and create change.
The definition of empathy is the capacity to understand or feel what someone else is experiencing or more simply stated, how to walk in their shoes.  It is an understanding of what that would feel like and the experience that person would have.  No one likes to think of themselves as lacking empathy.  It allows us to believe we have positive ways to relieve stress, communicate effectively and overcome conflict.  People are going to have different experiences and obstacles – they all might come towards those differently and have different ways to solve them. Empathy allows us to respond appropriately in different situations. Empathy allows us to be less judgmental about how someone is getting through  situations at home such as COVID.  
The word empathy is thrown around a lot especially when someone is lacking.  We also look at co-workers, friends, partners.  If empathy is not there, the relationship feels unfulfilling.  You sometimes say what is wrong with this relationship, why does it feel so bad?  Even with people you love, you can struggle with that.  If someone can’t understand the feelings of someone they love, you can understand how hard it is to understand people they don’t know.  In a micro level, it can lead to conflict at work, discontentment at work or friendships.  On a macro level it can lead to hatred and negative attitudes towards people who are different.
Empathy is part of human connection – not just because it is the right thing to do, but because it also makes life feel better.  Where does it come from?  A strong attachment relationship during the first few years of life readies us for empathy development.  This is usually a parent, maybe grandparent or someone else.  You know emotional needs are met and this allows empathy to develop.  However, it means some people will not have that.  It doesn’t stop developing in early childhood, but grows through life.  But, the later you start the more difficult it is.   Practice can improve one's ability to empathize.  One barrier to empathy is active listening.  This is where we can start to practice e.g. when kids are young or where problems are noticed. To do this, quiet your thoughts and internal dialogue – you are trying to listen but are preoccupied.  Practice quieting your mind.  Settling the mind and body is so powerful.  Get rid of preoccupation and give your full attention to the person.  Pay attention to body language, try tuning into something about them.  For example, turn in your right ear – this acts as a reminder to pay attention.  Get engaged and what they are talking about is more interesting.  When people feel more interested, they are more motivated.  You have to work on it over and over.   Rotarians are good at this – in order to have people care about us, we have to do the same for them - empathy building.  Approach each situation, every interaction with the desire to experience and grow.  Stay tuned into the experience around us.   You can build on empathy -- when we practice it, we get better at it.
The other piece highly empathic people do as well is to look towards themselves.  Look at how you interact with people.  You do want to walk in others’ shoes because it will allow you to connect, do better and be better.  It also avoids falling into stereotypes and prejudices – humanize people.  Horrible things have happened throughout history because of a failure to empathize.  Empathy will allow us to get beyond this – free us from the us versus them approach.  We don’t need to fall into categories – this is what Rotary is all about.  You can take a leadership role in modelling empathy. 
Kristin Crowe thanked Dr. Gowthorpe on behalf of Rotary as well as having the opportunity to work with her personally.  Kristin would recommend her to anyone dealing with family and personal challenges and is grateful for an abundance of information to be used in all areas of life.