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18: How to be people, with other people


How to be people, with other people

with Michael Jensen and Megan Powell du Toit

Empathy, Brené Brown and Winston Churchill

For arguments sake: where we take a debate, cut out the party politics and try to talk it out

Empathy has become immensely popular. Why?

We have a desire to be understood. We want empathy to be shown to us. And we want to be able to stand in other people’s shoes so we can communicate to them.

Empathy is something Megan and Michael have been speaking about together for quite some time. And it may or may not surprise you that they disagree. Megan is pro empathy. Michael is not.

Michael has been reading Against Empathy by Paul Bloom which argues that empathy has become a substitute for morality. And while it has its uses, there are problems with empathy including:

  • Empathy is biased. We’re more likely to show someone empathy who is like us.
  • While what’s great about empathy is it focuses on the person in front of us, it makes it very hard to think of the thousands or millions who are suffering, from an empathetic point of view.
  • Empathy can be manipulated.

Megan, on the other hand, says the way she views empathy has a Christian basis which may not necessarily be how the rest of society views it. There’s an other-centred empathy that tries to get across difference, rather than an empathy that ends up directed just towards others in your own group – which is one of the critiques of empathy in modern times.

Megan and Michael grapple with the definitional problems with empathy: what is it, exactly?

Also mentioned in this segment:

Discomfort Zone: ever think someone might think differently if they step outside their comfort zone? This is where we make the other do just that.

Megan asks Michael to watch Brené Brown’s Netflix special on courage. His initial reaction was to say, “I thought that was a girl thing.” Perhaps you can imagine Megan’s response?

Michael says he enjoyed watching it and learning more about Brené Brown, partially because she’s funny, but also because she can be very insightful.

Both Michael and Megan draw connections between Brené Brown and Jordan Peterson, though they come to very different opinions on both.

Brené Brown also talks a lot about shame, arguing in broad strokes that shame for women is around body issues and shame for men is showing weakness. Megan and Michael reflect personally on whether they agree with her analysis.

Also mentioned in this segment:

Marg and Dave: reviews from two people obsessed by stories, but not always the same ones.

Megan’s choice this episode: The Darkest Hour, the 2017 war drama film about Winston Churchill.

Churchill and Brené Brown might seem to be an odd couple for this episode, but actually The Darkest Hour brings out a lot to talk about empathy in leadership.

The common perception of Churchill is all around the strength of his leadership. But Megan says what surprised her in this movie is his vulnerability and doubt.

Megan and Michael discuss what it takes to be a good leader, using Churchill and his experiences as their guide. Is having empathy enough?


Less aggro, more conversation.

Is it even possible to have a deep discussion without it descending into chaos? Michael Jensen and Megan Powell du Toit think yes, and want to show the rest of us how to do it.

There’s plenty of things they disagree on: free will, feminism, where you should send your kids to school and what type of church you should go to. But there are also plenty of other things that they have in common. They want to talk about all these things with conviction. But they also want the conversation to be constructive. Tune in to find out if that’s possible.

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Oh boy, does John love questions. So don’t be afraid to send them in. At the end of each season we dedicate an episode or two for John to answer all your burning questions about Christianity. Want to know something more about a previous episode? Or perhaps you’ve got a question about faith that you’ve been struggling to find an answer for?
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