Explaining the Empathy Gap

Empathy can be defined as “the action of understanding, being aware of, being sensitive to, and vicariously experiencing the feelings, thoughts, and experience of another” (Merriam-Webster). It can further be understood that our empathic processes are automatically elicited and our interpretation is filtered through our own life experiences while still recognizing that the source of the emotion is not our own (Cuff, Brown, Taylor, & Howat, 2016).

Dr. Scopelliti (2015) states that the difficulty arising from an empathy gap is that there is a problem in being able to engage in the emotional perspective-taking that empathy requires. First, we have trouble imagining how we would feel in another person’s shoes, and second we are not good at imaging how other people would respond to things because we assume they would respond in the same way that we might.

Empathy connects us to one another and empathy allows us to care about each other. Without empathy there is no connection between people; if there is no connection it is difficult for people to care.

Unless someone has been personally impacted by incarceration, the general public finds it difficult to care about those who are incarcerated, often believing they have nothing in common with them. However, over 1.2 million people who are incarcerated identify as being parents (Glaze & Maruschak, 2011). They may also further identify as aunts, uncles, masons, chefs, barbers, and nurses among other identities in which most of the general public can find a commonality.

Closing the empathy gap is important for children impacted by parental incarceration because we must model to their peers, our children, that they are just as worthy, valued, and loved as if they were our own children. The hope of Every Single Kid is to provide insight into how these children feel, their hopes for their futures, and the dreams their parents hold for them. By providing this insight through their artwork, words, and other expressions we hope to work on closing the empathy gap that currently exists. Every Single Kid believes that surrounding children who have incarcerated parents with the stability, encouragement, and hope they need will increase their resiliency to cope with the emotional trauma of parental incarceration.

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