Diversify Podcast: What I've learnt about Human Empathy

Diversify Podcast

Words by Kate-Lois Elliott

For the last nine months I’ve been working on a podcast called Diversify, which celebrates diversity in all it’s many forms. I've been talking to people, lots of people, and I want to share a couple of the lessons I've learnt.

The Power of Stories

On Diversify podcast we share individual stories. Stories are inspiring and powerful, and I believe they change the way a person see’s the world. The ancient Greeks created theatre in order to enforce their version of morality on a society that they believed did not have it innately. We experience other people’s lives, fears and woes pushed to extremes, so that we can see the consequences of choices based on different maxims.

The only way you can really start to empathise with others is by trying to step into their shoes. We teach our children about the horrors of the Holocaust, about how between 5 and 6 million Jews died, but the only way you can truly provoke the emotion in a person that is required for them to really empathise from the heart, is to tell them, for instance, the story of Anne Frank. As soon as we can empathise with another human being, we can begin to do the work that is required to empathise with other social groups, and other sections of society.  

Making Diversify Podcast has been the most rewarding experience. My co-host (Holly from The Q) and I, have been spending joyous, tangent filled, toast filled and sometimes tear filled evenings interviewing a diverse range of real life heroes. The aim being to share their individual stories, and to help to share a small piece of their worlds and communities.

The idea behind Diversify was simple: we wanted to create a safe platform where we could share stories with the masses. Holly is a member of the LGBT community, and I am a straight woman. We’ve experienced oppression to a point, but we’ve also experienced the strenuous learning that comes with checking your own privilege, as well as the frustration that comes when trying to actuate a change in someone else’s point of view. We are not exhausted by having to live these moments every single day, because most of the time we both pass as cis, white, middle class people. We also know that people make mistakes all the time, and that shaming someone for not being 'woke' enough is not useful. Everyone learns different lessons at different times. For instance, if you question the semantic shifts of a word (such as the use of the word lame to describe something that isn't cool…think about it) you cannot expect everyone to notice this with you at that very same moment, you have to tell people about it first.  

As soon as we can empathise with another human being, we can begin to do the work that is required to empathise with other social groups, and other sections of society.  

We have a phrase on Diversify that we use a lot: ‘Do you want to be right, or do you want to be useful?’ Sometimes we have to be pushed in the right direction so that we can start to learn, but most of us are also brave enough to face up to our own ignorance when given the space to. However, sometimes the person you are talking to is unwilling to connect, with no desire to understand your perspective or partake in learning together, and in which case you can just be right, say what you need to, dismiss the negativity and move on. Sometimes you can be useful, and engage in a conversation with someone where you can do some good, imparting perspectives and hopefully growing as people. Sometimes you're too tired to have that conversation, and besides, it’s not your responsibility to have that conversation, in which case you can point them to a correlating episode of Diversify Podcast and be on your merry way.

One of the most interesting points someone brought up during our recordings was that if you want to Diversify your view of the world you need to diversify your people. If we don't take the time to get to know individuals with different backgrounds to our own, then how will we ever understand any other perspective but our own? There’s a lot that can be said for checking yourself, looking around, listening and remembering that every person we meet is fighting a battle we know nothing about. There’s great value in creating community wherever you go, instead of allowing pain, resentment and frustration to divide and conquer, abating the positive social changes that are so important to the future of society as a whole.

Do you want to be right, or do you want to be useful?

Every episode we talk to a different guest who speak with open hearts about their lives and experiences, in a space that they control. They also give us permission to ask the stupid questions, so that the listeners don’t have to. Interviews so far have covered religion, racial and trans identity (with Kamari Romeo), the erasure of East Asian culture (with Daniel York), proportional representation (with Zack Polanski), BPD and mental health with (Sam Elson aka @blossumandbuttercups), disability awareness (with Libby Welsh and Jack Silver), the inner workings of parliament and the NHS. We also have a list of brilliant guests for season two, which include conversations about climate change (with Extinction Rebellion), grief, feminism, LGBT dating, Islam, burlesque, Nepalese history and culture, diversity in the fitness industry and representation of class in the media.

If you want to Diversify your view of the world you need to diversify your people

At no point do we take ourselves too seriously either, and as a result the conversations are human, full of positivity and easily digestible. Every single guest has taught me something new about what it is to be human, about inclusivity and the joy that comes with creating communities where everyone is welcome. They are all of us, because we are all of us, and once you get outside of white-male-cis gender perspective then the world becomes a brighter, richer and more beautiful place. 

Diversify season 1 can be downloaded from all podcast providers and listened to directly via Libsyn . They are on Twitter @Diversifypod, and Instagram @DiversifyPodcast

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Kate-Lois Elliott is an actor, writer and producer. She has contributed to a variety of projects as a writer, including work for VICE, Caboodle, Femini, Jazz FM, Wandsworth Radio, XYZ Magazine and Theatre 503. Kate co-hosts the Podcast Diversify, which celebrates diversity in all its forms, and has been featured in the Canary and DIVA Magazine. She is also a resident practitioner at Shakespeare’s Globe, and regularly champions first time playwrights and emerging artists with her company Backbone Theatre, who produce theatre and film in London.

Twitter and Instagram: @kateloiselliott

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