Can technology make us more empathetic?

Romain Sepehr Vakilitabar is an artist and the founder of Pathos Labs, a non-profit focused on using technology to accelerate understanding across lines of difference. From a young age, empathy became a fascination, and he has made himself the subject of experiments worldwide to see how empathy can be achieved in difficult circumstances. Through innovative technologies and visual storytelling, Romain’s work challenges our deepest convictions about those who are “different.” Romain is a big fan (and expert) on two things: gummy bears and people watching.

“A Danger with a Single Story” because it inspired the work at Pathos Labs. Because of the world’s fixation on oversimplification, and how technology and media have proliferated oversimplified narratives about other people, implicitly and subconsciously, our biases have molded around these oversimplifications. Pathos is focused on showing the complexity and the beauty that exists the deeper narratives. Her talk perfectly demonstrates the dangers of an oversimplified world.

What sparks your curiosity?

Unexpected stories that challenge our deeply seeded convictions, challenge the norms and open new possibilities of what is/what could be. In December I spontaneously traveled to a small town in Belgium, because I heard that they were approaching mental illness treatment in a radically different way: not labeling it as a problem that needs to be fixed, but as a difference, we need to accept. Or a spontaneous trip to one of the country’s most conservative places to better understand their views.

What is the most uncommon experience, practice, belief, viewpoint, or habit that you have, and how has that shaped you as a person?

I practice empathy by trying to empathize with those who tend to receive the least amount of empathy and understanding. When I can’t hear their story, I try crafting a story to myself that makes them a rational, well-intentioned human being for believing what they believe. And sometimes it’s really difficult, but trying to do so has made me more objective and pragmatic, and has made me better able to relate and create meaningful relationships across lines of difference.

Hobbies / Passions / Fun Facts

1) I wrote a children’s book about climate change.
2) I only eat one meal per day.
3) I’m a sucker for gummies