Hugh Mackay is a social researcher and many of his ideas and books have inspired our thinking at The Intersection. Read this great article by Hugh, where he challenges us to meet our neighbours and connect with those around us. The kind of society we want depends on the way we interact with those in our street or school.
Empowering Women to Make their Stories Heard
She’s A Crowd is a Melbourne based social enterprise, empowering people to share their stories of gender-based violence and providing a database of evidence that can be used to influence decision makers to take action. With innovative data capturing technology, She’s A Crowd gives women (and people of all genders) all over the world a platform to share their experiences and link them to a specific place. She’s A Crowd then uses this data to pinpoint hotspots for gender based violence, allowing them to provide a strong evidence base which can inform real change and help decision makers, including governments, universities and other organisations, take the steps to create safe, welcoming spaces for all.
She’s A Crowd was developed after founder and CEO Zoë Condliffe identified that there was a big gap between the number of experiences women and girls had of feeling unsafe or being exposed to gender-based violence or harassment and the amount of data that existed on the topic. With a background in gender advocacy and international development, Zoë realised that she could bridge this gap by creating a platform which allowed women the opportunity to share their stories without fear of being judged or criticised, while also collecting data on the type, amount and location of gender-based violence that occurred in different areas of the world and particularly in urban environments. By fusing the two important goals of empowering women to share their stories and capturing data that can then be used by decision makers to create safer cities, She’s A Crowd developed their innovative, interactive platform which is able to be used by people all over the world.
At the Intersection, we believe in the power of stories to share perspectives that are often unseen and unheard. Organisations like She’s A Crowd help to strengthen the voices of marginalised people whose stories are so often spoken over in society. She’s A Crowd is one of many organisations who are working to build a safer, more livable society for everyone, a goal which lies at the heart of what we do here at The Intersection.
If you want to learn more about She’s A Crowd or to share your own story of gender-based violence, you can visit them at https://www.shesacrowd.com/.
If you or someone you know is experiencing gender-based violence and need to talk to someone, please call 1800 RESPECT or the Sexual Assault Crisis Line on 1800 806 292 (Victoria only). If you or someone else is in immediate danger, please call 000.
What is Loneliness and Can We Fix It?
Let’s face it; we all feel lonely sometimes and it pretty much always sucks. There’s nothing like that feeling that you’re all alone in the world to make you feel worthless, unloved and unwanted, no matter how much evidence there is to the contrary. It might come about when we see a photo on social media of our friends having fun at a party we weren’t invited to, or maybe because no one’s picking up the phone when you really want to talk. You might find it rising up inside of you when you realise that in a big crowd you’re the only one who has a certain skin colour, or who is wearing something different or speaking a different language. Or it might be because that one person who you really want to talk to, doesn’t want to talk to you. Regardless of when and why it happens, loneliness is hard and, when it gets out of hand or becomes the norm rather than the exception, it can become debilitating.
Sadly, in our society today, 1 in 4 of us report that we feel lonely at least one day a week with young people aged 16-25 reporting the highest instances of loneliness across the population. According to the scientific chair of the Australian Coalition to End Loneliness, Dr Michelle Lim, “chronic loneliness is on the rise in Australia,” with many of us lacking the meaningful connections needed to maintain our social wellbeing. Loneliness may often be dismissed as insignificant or unimportant, but it’s a serious matter, with a recent study from Julianne Holt-Lunstad, Professor of Psychology and Neuroscience at Brigham Young University in Utah, USA showing that “feeling lonely can pose a bigger risk for premature death than smoking or obesity”. While sometimes our society seems more connected than ever, the rise in loneliness alongside the increases in homelessness, anxiety and suicide rates, points to the truth. Our society is sick and unless we do something soon, more and more people will fall victim to its symptoms.
Unfortunately, while anyone can experience loneliness, it is often our most vulnerable groups who are most affected by it. Executive director of research and strategy at Lifeline, Alan Woodward told ABC that factors such as mental illness, disability and being a member of marginalised or excluded groups such as the LGBTIQA+ community, recent migrants or Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders all act as additional risk factors for whether someone will experience loneliness. In fact, Mr Woodward points out that the risk of loneliness increases “wherever there are elements of social exclusion in our society”. While this may seem demoralising and scary, it’s important to remember as it gives us vital clues about how this epidemic might come to an end.
If social exclusion is such a major contributing factor for loneliness, it stands to reason that by increasing empathy and connection, embracing diversity and challenging stereotypes and prejudices, we can begin to tackle the root causes of loneliness, not just treating the symptoms but working towards a cure. At The Intersection, we believe that when we open ourselves up to others perspectives, we expand our ability to connect and empathise with those outside our immediate circle, which contributes to building a more connected society. While sometimes we might feel small when experiencing loneliness or isolation, there are things we can do everyday to challenge the conditions that lead to social exclusion. For ourselves, we can join a club to meet people with similar interests, make an effort to reach out to someone we haven’t spoken to in a while or even challenge ourselves to have a conversation to have a conversation with a new person every day, whether they be at our school or work, on the train on the way home or even begging on the street. For others, we can remember to check in with friends who we haven’t heard from in a while or are going through a hard time and take that step to talk to that person we always see alone in the school yard, or always pass on the footpath outside our favourite cafe.
Loneliness is a big issue but to tackle it we can start small. All that’s important is that we start soon and commit to challenging ourselves and our communities to become welcoming, diverse and open spaces.
Jennings-Edquist, G 2019, ‘Feeling isolated? You’re not alone. Here’s why 1 in 4 of us is lonely,’ ABC, viewed 26 September 2019,
VicHealth 2019, ‘Loneliness: a new public health challenge emerges,’ viewed 26 September 2019,
Unstuck recently posted some great lessons on empathy:
Empathy lesson 1: Slow down and put yourself in a neutral state of mind.
The brain is pre-set for empathy. There’s a section called the supramarginal gyrus where the capacity for empathy and compassion resides. The scientists who discovered this in 2013 also learned that the brain does not activate empathy if 1. we’re forced to make quick decisions and 2. our current emotional state is the opposite of the other person’s (I’m having a good day; nothing is going right for you).
Empathy lesson 2: Consciously ask yourself, “How might this person think and feel about this?”
Researchers have also learned that people with low empathy tendencies (such as narcissists) can increase their ability to step outside of themselves when directed to look at a situation from another’s point of view.
Empathy lesson 3: Exercise your mind in ways that help empathy occur more naturally.
Science has known for more than 100 years that the brain is “plastic,” meaning it can reorganize itself and make new connections. Now, several recent studies have found that meditation can grow fibers that connect separate areas of the brain. This interconnectedness builds “the gateway of empathy and compassion through mindful meditation,” says Dr. Dan Seigal, executive director of the Mindsight Institute. The loving-kindness meditation, in particular, helped direct the brain’s attention to a more compassionate mindset.
How to build an empathy habit
Meditation can pave a wider gateway to our empathy, but like guest-speaking at an event, we need to know what to do once we get there. So let’s break empathy down into five areas that are practicable. After awhile, those pieces should naturally put themselves back together again.
1. Understand yourself. Before we can extend empathy to someone else, it helps to be in touch with our own experiences and emotions, and what they’ve taught us. A shining example of this is Zak Ebrahim, who outed himself at TED 2014 as the peace-loving son of a terrorist. Throughout his childhood, he was bullied for his appearance. This, he says, “created a sense of empathy in me toward the suffering of others.” (You can watch his talk here.)
2. Listen fully. When you follow these rules, you’ll hear more:
• Let the other person do most of the talking.
• Look at the speaker.
• Don’t interrupt but do make encouraging responses and nods.
• Ask questions that allow the speaker to expand on the topic.
3. Recognize the unspoken. Humans speak volumes with their eyes and facial expressions (ever notice someone whose mouth is smiling but her eyes aren’t?). Test your eye IQ with this simple, but not so easy, eye-reading test. Also look for microexpressions that occur in less than a second and reveal how someone is feeling at that moment. This guide will help you read them.
4. Reserve judgment. Put aside your point of view so you can consciously hear and see the situation from someone else’s. You don’t have to agree with the other person, but you do need to accept what is, rather than focus on what you think it should be. If you find yourself lapsing into judgment mode, switch to curiosity and try to get a better understanding of the situation.
5. Acknowledge. The goal is to let the speaker know that you’ve heard and understood what he’s saying. This usually includes acknowledging feelings (“that sounds hard,” “you seem overwhelmed”) as well as beliefs. This encourages the other person to continue to open up. NB: Acknowledging never involves giving advice, changing the topic, or disapproving.
You can practice these empathy interactions with a friend by sharing experiences and thoughts with other each that you might not ordinarily reveal.
Ask your partner some of the questions below or any from this list designed by social psychology researcher Arthur Aron to foster closeness by building empathy. Allow yourself to be vulnerable and, in turn, listen without judgment:
• What do you feel most grateful for in your life?
• If you could change anything about the way you were raised, what would it be?
• Is there something that you’ve dreamed of doing for a long time? Why haven’t you done it?
• What is an embarrassing moment in your life?
• What is a problem you’re dealing with right now that you wish you had help with?
The more you practice empathy, the stronger those muscles become until you can count on them to help you — and others — in any stuck moment.
In 2013 a book, called Hungry Planet, (by Peter Menzel and Faith D’Alusio) was published exploring how families eat around the world. Families have been photographed in front of their weekly food and how much they spend each week has been recorded. It provides a stunning visual illustration about the divide between rich and poor, as well as the difference in diet between cultures and countries. It serves as a reminder as to how lucky we are. I wonder what a project like this would look like if done here in Australia?
To see more images from the book click here.