Starting on the path to Radical Empathy

Radical Empathy book cover with picture of Terri Givens

People often ask me how to get started on the path to radical empathy — first I remind them that there are six steps:

  1. A willingness to be vulnerable.
  2. Becoming grounded in who you are.
  3. Opening yourself to the experiences of others.
  4. Practicing empathy.
  5. Taking action.
  6. Creating change and building trust

I strongly encourage those who are interested to take our 12 week course, but even before that course starts, it is important to understand how we can create the space that will allow for vulnerability.

“We have to be willing to allow each other to make mistakes, in this course we create a safe space for all of us to ask questions and share our experience.”
– Terri Givens

The Radical Empathy course is a learning opportunity and designed to foster discussion, about pre-conceptions, opinions, or stereotypes that all workers — regardless of their race or sex — may have regarding people who are different, which could influence your conduct or statements and be perceived by others as offensive. It is not intended or designed to make anyone feel guilty about their race or gender or to imply that any worker at BMS by virtue of their race, sex, and/or national origin is racist, sexist, oppressive, or harbors unlawful bias.

We work together and share our own life stories and hear from those of our peers to practice empathy. In doing so we know that the conversations will delve into some sensitive topics. Friendly reminder: having the choice about whether or not to address racist or oppressive comments is a privilege. And please take care of yourself and your emotions around this. Check-in with a friend, vent, ask for help, etc. if you have a confrontational moment. Also, remember safety. While given the luxury to respond or not as white people, there can still be dangers in confronting others — especially strangers. Please be safe and brave.

Now some tips:

Know yourself

  • Get to know your emotions so you can identify your feelings and then have more control over your response.
  • Speak from your own experience
  • Have an internal process — collect thoughts, take space and come back to the conversation if possible/desired.
  • Do you need support — get others involved.

Be vulnerable when asking for vulnerability from others

  • Create a brave space, if possible, for you both to share. Have understandings and agreements
  • It’s ok to not be polished or perfect in your delivery. We must make mistakes.
  • Know that you don’t have to understand to accept another’s point of view/experience and let others know that they don’t have to either — and it’s actually not your job to understand and a lot of times you might not ever be able to.
  • Out yourself as someone with similar thought struggles –“wow I used to think like that and someone told me or I realized I was…”
  • Be patient — with self and others and ask for help when needed.

Offer Empathy

  • Recognize intentions, ask about intentions. Recognize and explore your own, too.
  • Humanize the other person. Try to understand intentions, their experiences.
  • Clarify the difference between intentions and impact.
  • Build relationships if applicable. Show interest.
  • Ask curious questions, dig deeper! ‘Tell me more about?’, ‘What did you mean by…?’, ‘Have you heard how that statement can be interpreted as …?
  • Use relationship knowledge and care for said relationship.


  • Use I-statements: ‘When I hear a comment like that, I feel really disappointed…’
  • Recognize dead ends in the conversation and steer clear or return when more potential exists
  • Try and be in it for the long haul, follow a conversation as far as it goes. Come back to it if more is needed.
  • When appropriate use charm/humor in the conversation.

If you have questions that you are uncomfortable asking or posting on the platform, you can email Terri direct at

Otherwise here are some useful thoughts to think about

  • Commit to learning, not debating.
  • Comment in order to share information, not to persuade.
  • Avoid blame, speculation, and inflammatory language.
  • Criticize ideas, not individuals.
  • Avoid assumptions about any member of the class or generalizations about social groups.
  • Do not ask individuals to speak for their (perceived) social group.

For more information or to sign up for our course, click on this link:



Terri E. Givens -

Professor of Political Science, McGill University. Higher Ed Leadership, Immigration & European politics. Author of Radical Empathy & The Roots of Racism