How To Build Your Empathy Muscle

Sara Cullen

with Sara Cullen

CEO and Founder of GEM

How To Build Your Empathy Muscle

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Sara Cullen and Jenna discuss how Gem created a real food vitamin by challenging what a vitamin looks like, how it’s made, and what’s inside of it.

We walk through two of Sara’s key life experiences – living in one of the most developing parts of Morocco and backpacking across 15 countries – and how empathy transcended words enabling her to build meaningful relationships with the people she met despite not speaking the same language. We also chat about empathy as striving to see people as their whole selves, rather than honing in on their individual traits, and how focusing on people’s intentions, rather than their reactions, promotes greater understanding.

Lastly, we dive into the overwhelming feeling of recognizing that we are one of many traveling our life journeys and the importance of clinging on to our childlike wonder.

Highlights from the Transcript

  • On new food values: “People think more is better, but that’s a myth. Less is actually more and simpler is better.”
  • On complete nutrition: “Nutrition has to be better for both you and the earth. It can’t be a choice anymore. The only way something is going to be better for you is if its better for our planet.”
  • On growth: “Do the things you are afraid of. They’re what’s going to push you and help you grow.”
  • On resourcefulness: “You’ll be surprised how resourceful you can be when you’re in situations when you have no choice.”
  • On identity: “I think identity is very fluid. We’re always connecting the dots of who we are.”
  • On empathy: “Empathy is about looking at someone or something as a whole, not focusing on the individual parts. Building your empathy muscle is not only a great skillset for your relationships but to have for yourself and understanding your own identity. You start letting go of the labels you have for yourself and others.”
  • On intentions: “When you put yourself in other people’s shoes you can try to understand the whole situation instead of getting caught up in your own mind and a one dimensional point of view. Focus on understanding people’s intentions, not just their reactions. If we understood what people were fighting for and got to the heart of that, versus just reacting to what is manifesting, we’d all be in a better place.”
  • On union: “I still don’t know what my host mom was fighting about that day but I could understand the intent and motive behind her behavior, which was about honesty, her self-worth as a woman and protecting her children. I knew the values she was standing for as a woman and that was something I could support and get behind. We never spoke the same language but we had a really special support system…A lot of our petty dramas would go away if we were able to cut through the noise and see the underlying intentions of what people are really fighting for, which are largely the same things.”
  • On childlike wonder: “For the most part, we didn’t have any digital connectivity while backpacking. We’d be on 10-12 hour bus rides just starring out into space and letting our minds wander…You start to become like a child again. You enjoy your curiosities and your imagination. You’re attuned to your senses. You enjoy looking around, listening to people, seeing and smelling things. It’s important to hold on to that. Life gets really noisy. Any way you can reduce the noise is really important. Whenever I get really caught up in my work and feel like I have to constantly be ‘on,’ I remember that I used to sit really peacefully on a bus for 12 hours, not minding that I had nothing to do. I know I can do that again.”
  • On resetting: “It’s so important to take time for yourself. That’s what gets you out of your own head and gets your ideas and new perspectives flowing. Some people think it’s a waste of time but you might be more productive by doing that.”
  • On Sonder: “Sonder is the feeling of walking into a coffee shop and seeing someone sitting at a desk or seeing someone’s light flickering on. Every one of those instances is another human being with a life that is as complicated as your’s, with it’s own inherent ups and downs. When you start to internalize that, it’s quite overwhelming and humbling. You start to realize that you are one of many trying to make it up the mountain. It’s really beautiful acknowledging that everyone has their own story to write and appreciating that beauty.”