Masterclass – The Power of Empathy With Pharrell Williams & Noted Co-Instructors.

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For the first time ever on MasterClass, a diverse range of our instructors come together to talk about the power of empathy and how it can transform the way you view the world. Join Pharrell Williams, Robin Arzón, Roxane Gay, Walter Mosley, Robert Reffkin, Gloria Steinem, and Cornel West as they share their experiences with empathy and its importance in their lives and careers. Learn how to exercise, cultivate, and promote empathy to connect with others on a deeper, more human level.

The Instructors

Pharrell Williams

13-time Grammy Award–winning producer and artist, songwriter, fashion designer, entrepreneur, and author of the New York Times bestselling children’s book “Happy.”

Robin Arzón

VP of Fitness Programming and Head Instructor at Peloton, ultramarathoner, and New York Times bestselling author of “Shut Up and Run.”

Roxane Gay

Professor, editor, social commentator, and author of the New York Times bestsellers “Bad Feminist” and “Hunger,” and national bestseller “Difficult Women.” In Hunger: A Memoir of (My) Body, Gay describes her experience of her body, her relationship to food and weight, and her experience as a victim of sexual violence.


Lessons Learned from Roxanne Gay’s Masterclass Session on Writing for Social Change.

Walter Mosley

Bestselling author, New York Writers Hall of Fame inductee, and the first Black man to receive the National Book Award’s Lifetime Achievement Medal.


Lessons Learned from Walter Mosley’s Masterclass Session on Fiction and Storytelling.

Robert Reffkin

Entrepreneur and founder/CEO of Compass real estate brokerage, author of “No One Succeeds Alone,” and founder of the nonprofit America Needs You.


Robert Reffkin teaches Buying and Selling Real Estate.

Gloria Steinem

Activist, journalist, feminist icon, and cofounder of several women’s organizations, including the National Women’s Political Caucus and the Ms. Foundation for Women.

Cornel West

American philosopher and author, political activist, social commentator, professor at Union Theological Seminary, and professor emeritus at Princeton University.

Ways to be more empathetic

Empathy isn’t just about being compassionate toward other people. It’s about having a deep understanding of why others feel and behave the way they do. This understanding is key to making lasting connections, transcending the divisions in our modern world, and living a more fulfilling life.

In both abstract thought and practical application, empathy requires you, as an individual, to break down the fundamental barriers that seem to exist between humanity.

Dr. Theresa Wiseman’s Analysis of Empathy

Dr. Theresa Wiseman. The British scholar is an expert in nursing, psychology, and education. In the realm of social sciences, her best-known work involves the study of empathy, uncovering how to impart and sustain this vital skill to nurses in training.

Einfühlung, a German word that literally translates as “feeling into.”

In her analyses, she synthesized four key findings that define empathy:

1. Seeing the world as another person sees it.

In order to enter another person’s frame of reference, feel their feelings, and understand their perspective, you need to set aside your own perception of the world.

 2. Behaving in a nonjudgmental fashion.

Suspend your general patterns of reaction and focus on listening and responding without presumption, criticism or judgement.

 3. Understanding another person’s feelings.

Try to internalize the other person’s perspective and emotions so that you’re feeling and experiencing from the other person’s point of view.

 4. Communicating the understanding. As you respond, strive to amplify the other person’s situation—without inserting your own commentary or advice. You should add to the dialogue, but only in a way that’s relevant and productive.

Empathy vs Sympathy

While these two concepts are sometimes used synonymously, the latter often involves feeling sorry for another person, or envisioning how you would react if you were experiencing a similar situation. The goal of empathy is to imagine how the other person is feeling and responding. This very act requires decentering the self in order to center the feelings, needs, and perspectives of another.

Crucially, Wiseman notes that in order for empathy to transpire, a form of interaction must occur. First, the empathee must communicate their emotions. Second, both the empathee and the empath must listen to and acknowledge each other.

Studies of the subject show that being understood is among the most elemental human needs; only through a sense of feeling acknowledged and validated can we truly adapt and prosper.

Practice Connected Knowing

This concept—posited during the 1980s by American academics Mary Field Belenky, Blythe McVicker Clinchy, Nancy Rule Goldberger, and Jill Mattuck Tarule—means suspending judgment when someone is discussing their problems or concerns. Instead, try to see it through their eyes and feel their emotions without offering solutions. Sometimes, the greatest contributions we can offer are support and validation.


 Foreground your apology in a discussion of how your actions impacted the other person, not how their reaction impacted you. Accountability, reconciliation, and repair are key to fostering and maintaining healthy, loving relationships with others.

Books Mentioned:

  • On the Problem of Empathy by Waltraut Stein 
  • Beloved  by Toni Morrison

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