AIDA Impact, a jewellery company founded by Elina Siira, employs women who have recently immigrated to Finland. For them, AIDA is the first step to building a working life in Finland and also an opportunity to combine motherhood and earning a living. The AIDA people share their love for beautiful jewellery and crafts. According to Elina, our Empathy Ambassador from AIDA, recognizing what we have in common is the beginning of empathy.
Why do you think empathy is important, Elina Siira?
To me, empathy means the ability to walk in another’s shoes and to show support when times are bad, but also the ability to be happy for someone. We often talk about empathy when something goes wrong and forget that empathy is also about seeing joy and happiness. Empathy is the warmth and love of everyday life that makes life worth living. That’s why it is so important. Although we often fail to notice those little beautiful moments of empathy, life without them would be very sad.
What is your way of bringing more empathy into the world?
I pay attention to the people around me in the little moments of everyday life. I like to keep in touch with people and I love to talk on the phone. It’s my way of showing empathy to friends and those who aren’t physically there. Even if we don’t see often, I call them and that is my way of staying informed about their lives. By phone you can be present in the lives of those who are far away, sometimes it can be even easier than face to face.
Who is your role model for empathy?
At first, it felt like I should say Oprah or some nobleman. But then I started to think that I don’t really know anything about these people’s genuine empathy. When I think about the kind of person I admire, I picture a person who in social situations notices the person who is not comfortable and goes to talk to them. Everyday empathy heroes open their eyes to the experiences of others and act to make these experiences better. This is the person I would love to be and I believe that everyone can learn these skills.
In what situations do you find it difficult to be compassionate?
Everyone knows the situation where someone comments something inappropriate or is otherwise behaving badly. Often, in those situations, you get angry yourself, even though you should remember that there might be reasons in the background that are not visible. However, it is not always easy to be empathic. Responding to uncomfortable behaviour we can apply a phrase commonly used in parenting to express feelings in words: maybe behind your feeling there is some other pain or bad feeling. However, it is not always necessary to raise others, and sometimes it is better to move from a difficult subject to an easier one. If the situation is very inflamed, you may want to wait a while before resolving it.
In what situation in your life have you hoped for more empathy?
My family and friends have always given all the support that I have needed, but sometimes I have not been able to be very empathic to myself. When I graduated and steered into working life, I was terribly anxious to show what I can do. The need to perform well in life and to take a lot of responsibility outweighed my own well-being. In a busy life I forgot to look at myself with empathic eyes. Now I’m thirty and I have found that work will never end by working more. Sometimes you just have to turn off your laptop and go home.
Why do you think it is important for Finland to be an empathic country?
It is worrying that in our society more attention is paid to differences between groups of people than to unity. Finland needs more of the we spirit, not the distinction between us and others. At AIDA Impact, we are different in many ways: we have a different language, country of birth, religion and cultural background. Yet, there are more things that unite us. It is also imperative to find an empathic mindset for the well-being of the Finnish society. Any form of polarization is harming this society, whether it is based on age, area of residence or even educational background. Grouping and othering people is easy but dangerous. In order for us to raise empathic children, we need to get rid of such practices.
”Finland needs more of the we spirit, not the distinction between us and others. At AIDA Impact, we are different in many ways: we have a different language, country of birth, religion and cultural background. Yet, there are more things that unite us.”
Who would you award an empathy prize to?
My child’s nursery is full of empathic professionals who make every child feel appreciated and safe. Early childhood educators do important and demanding work that I would like to raise my hat to. Not only do they run a daily show with children, they also build a foundation for children’s empathy skills. We learn to appreciate and encounter diversity at a very young age.