Our Empathy Ambassador Arto Sivonen is the founder of the creative agency Måndag and a civic activist. Arto, who tackles societal challenges for a living, believes that change for the better cannot happen without empathy.
What does empathy mean to you and why is it important?
There are really many forms of empathy and a lot of research on it. Some people are unaware of their empathy, while others are able to put it into words effortlessly. Without empathy, we cannot advance as we cannot increase our understanding of the world around us. Change towards the positive cannot happen without empathy, the lack of empathy would leave us clueless and stuck in our silos.
What is your way of bringing more empathy into the world?
I try to be empathic by listening to people at work and in my spare time. I’m the kind of person that I want to be active in matters that I find important. I address unfairness and act as an interpreter between those, to whom communication is challenging. However, helping others would not be possible if I did not seek to meet and understand other people. Especially getting to know people and stories that are different is important.
Who is your role model for empathy?
I’m lucky enough to have an incredible circle of friends. They are my role models. With just one look at me, many of my friends can tell if something is wrong. The fact that they are emotionally moved in these situations and willing to listen, is the right kind of heroism. My friends also inspire me to do the same. Even though life can be hectic at times, we need to take the time and stop to listen to one another.
In what situations do you find it difficult to be compassionate?
It is difficult for me to understand situations where someone is subjected to mental or physical violence, insulted or used to gain power. I wouldn’t even like to try to understand the situations where selfishness overrides empathy. But trying is important even then. If you cannot understand the reasons behind the offensive or discriminatory behaviour, you will not be able to take any action to solve the situation.
In what situations would you wish to receive empathy?
We all face moments of disappointment and failure, whether big or small. When I feel I have failed, I appreciate that others do not laugh at me or push me further down. I often realize myself that I have made a mistake. A hero in these situations is that friend who will help me to correct or compensate for my mistake and understand me even when I am weak and quiet.
Why do you think it is important for Finland to be an empathic country?
Finland is an empathic country in disguise. We certainly have a lot of empathy, but we dare not say it. In Finland, people are often afraid to take a stand and we prefer to watch from the sidelines.
But having empathy is of no use unless it leads to action, words or at least gestures.
Finland has a lot of racism and problems, but we also have a very empathic history, despite the wars. Helping others has lifted us as a nation to where we are now. In many cases, helping has not just been about talking, but rather about providing food and education, for example. I would like to advance and work on the fact that we dare to be emphatic out loud.
Who would you award an empathy prize to?
To fathers and mothers! Parenting is a tough job and there are more and more demands, hopes and accusations. However, fathers and mothers play a key role in building an empathic society. Parenthood also increasingly faces financial challenges. The deprivation of families, children and adolescents would, I think, require more space in social debate.