Imagination and Empathy – Tools to Decrease Division and Conflict

Division and conflict over a wide variety of topics and issues are a reality of life these days in the U.S. and across the globe. It truly is like we see different realities. What’s happened? Why are we so unable to understand others’ situations and perspectives? Could things improve if we expand our ability to imagine and empathize with other’s situations and perspectives?

Author and clergyman Stephen Mattson makes a powerful statement about this:

“When you can’t imagine, you can’t empathize, understand, or relate with the actions, struggles, pain, suffering, persecution, and trials of others — you become apathetic, unmoved, stoic, and inactive….

When you can’t imagine, you can’t celebrate, appreciate, admire, and joyfully love others. You disconnect yourself from humanity.

Imagination leads to empathy, empathy leads to understanding, understanding leads to action, action leads to experience, and experience leads to wisdom — which leads to even more imagination.”

Imagining someone’s situation that is outside our personal experience with all our senses breaks down barriers. When you imagine what it is like for that person, what they are dealing with, you become more empathetic and understanding. And that opens doors to so much more.

Understanding Empathy

So what exactly is empathy? How is it different from sympathy? I found this compilation to be helpful:

“Sympathy and empathy are both related to feelings, but they have different meanings and expressions. Sympathy is feeling compassion, sorrow, or pity for the hardships that another person encounters, or a recognition of what they are going through. Empathy is putting yourself in the shoes of another, understanding and experiencing their emotions or situation from their perspective, or using your experience to relate to their experience. Empathy is usually preferred over sympathy when dealing with difficult situations, because people need to feel understood rather than pitied.” Summarized from 5 sources and the web, Bing Search engine

Imagination is important to empathy because it takes you beyond your own thoughts and experiences.  As we expand our ability to imagine and empathize, we open our minds and hearts to new things.

Let’s break down empathy a bit more. There are 3 different types of empathy – emotional, cognitive and compassionate empathy with problem solving. The last is actually a combination of the first two.

Here’s one way to describe the difference between the first two types –

“Cognitive empathy is an attempt to walk a mile in another person’s shoes, while emotional empathy is screaming in pain when someone else steps on a nail.” Source:

Emotional empathy most often occurs when someone experiences something you’ve been through before. You re-live that situation and its pain with that person. Even if you haven’t experienced the same thing but have a relationship with the person, emotional empathy is possible. That can be extended to others beyond your circle of friends who are dealing with similar things.

Cognitive empathy is a conscious effort to understand the perspective of someone else. You relate to what someone else is going through even if you’ve never experienced it yourself. You aren’t inserting your personal point of view. There’s no bias on your part and you’re not trying to insert your own experiences. You may happily help another person and might even understand the point of view of an individual. You don’t necessarily identify with what caused the problem in the first place but respond with empathy.

Compassionate Empathy combines the emotional and cognitive and goes farther. It means looking at a situation and trying to get at the cause. You analyze the underlying reasons why something happened, as well as the effects.

With this ability, you can demonstrate to a person that you understand where they’re coming from to the degree possible. You don’t offer any bias or prejudice. You may even offer an alternative way of thinking or some insight that helps the person in need.

Expanding Our Abilities and Impact

Empathy in any form makes the world a better place. It’s selfless and caring. It is also a powerful tool to apply in many situations in our fractured society and world. We are fortunate to have resources to help us expand our ability to imagine and empathize.

TED’s series “How to Be a Better Human” includes this article: 5 exercises to help you build more empathy | ( It includes 5 exercises to help build your empathy from Dr. Jamil Zaki, Psychology professor at Stanford University. Dr. Zaki believes we all have a responsibility to cultivate empathy in “the same way that we try to take care of our bodies or of our mental health…building empathy is a way to take care of our social health.”

I recommend Dr. Zaki’s book, The War for Kindness – Building Empathy in a Fractured World by Jamil Zaki

Another resource was written specifically for educators but provides so much great content for everyone. Preventing Polarization: 50 Strategies for Teaching Kids About Empathy, Politics, and Civic Responsibility  by Michelle Blanchet and Brian Deters

Each of us can make a difference if we make the choice and seek out the tools and opportunities to expand our ability to imagine and empathize.

I’m Carol Brusegar, author, photographer and curator of information. My focus is on gathering and writing on topics that enhance all our lives – regardless of our age. Topics include health and wellness, personal development, innovation and creativity, and a variety of helpful, practical tools and practices. I have a special interest in helping people over 50 years of age to create their 3rd Age – the next stage of their lives – to be the best it can be. Visit my Amazon Author Page to find my published books:



Using Vision Boards and Mind Mapping For Summer Planning

summer planningWhoa! It’s May! Now’s the time to start thinking about how you want to make this summer enjoyable in multiple ways. That includes fun activities and also ways to expand your wellness. Vision Boards, Mind Maps and Bucket Lists are great tools to use!!

We often thing about Vision Boards at the beginning of the year and they are a great part of planning then. I wrote about the basics of how to create vision boards here: We can use them seasonally as well; create your very own and/or a family Summer Vision Board now. Take some time to gather pictures and words that illustrate your goals, ambitions, hopes and dreams for the coming season. You might include photos you’ve taken of things you’ve done and places you’ve gone in the past that you loved. Here are some tips to get started.

Use Bright Summer Colors

Color helps to create more of a theme to get you in the spirit. A great way to do that is by focusing on the colors we associate with this time of year. Bright yellows, oranges, blues, red all portray the energy of summer.

Include Flowers and Gardening

To decorate this vision board, use a lot of beautiful seasonal flowers and other gardening images. If you want to create a garden someday, find images of your dream garden, both in size and layout, and the actual flowers you might include. If you just want flowers for decoration and to reflect the seasonal theme, use sunflowers, zinnias, roses and other flowers that you enjoy in summer. If you grow herbs, vegetables or fruits, be sure to include them.

List Your Health Goals

Decide what you want to do in the upcoming months in terms of your mental or physical wellness. Use words, lists, and images to reflect your personal health goals. Break them down to specific things you will do. For example, meditate and/or journal daily to improve your mindset and attitude. Or connect with 3 friends per week. Or picture favorite summer fruits and vegetables that you will enjoy each week. Make those goals come alive and be appealing with the visuals and well-chosen words.

Choose Activities and Outings

What sports do you enjoy doing in the summer – outdoor tennis, volleyball, badminton, etc. For many of us, water-related activities will be high on the list. What sports do you enjoy as a spectator during these months? There are so many places to visit – zoos, botanical gardens, museums, historical sites and more. Which ones do you want to enjoy this summer? Then think of fairs, expos, musical events. Decide on your priorities and put them on your Summer Vision Board.

Think Creatively

In addition to thinking about what you’ve enjoyed in the past and want to do again, think about new activities and experiences you want to include in your summer plans. Add them to your Summer Vision Board. Set aside some time and get started! This can be a great launching point to the coming months.

Mind Mapping as a Planning Tool

Another tool to jumpstarting your dreaming and planning for the coming season is MIND MAPPING. It is a tool that can release creativity and engage the entire household. Mind mapping is a two-dimensional technique that uses imagery, drawings and color to help us tap into both sides of our brains. It is an alternative to outline and list making techniques and is more detailed than a vision board. This powerful tool helps us visualize tasks or ideas, come up with new possibilities as we brainstorm, and organize our thoughts.

Mind Map

Basics of Mind Maps

Here are the steps to do simple, hand-drawn mind maps.

  • Gather plain paper, colored pencils, markers, or crayons.
  • Choose a topic you want to explore.
  • Draw a circle in the center of the paper and write in your topic in a word or phrase.
  • Draw lines out from the center where you write a few words, a symbol or drawing for each idea you have, and add sub-topics or related ideas in lines off these main points.

Make additional maps as off-shoots or expansions of your first map. You can expand, modify or discard ideas from the first map on the topic.

An Example of a Summer Mind Map

Start with the main topic of “Summer 2023” and think of several categories of things you want to be part of the season, like:

Accomplish 1 Big Goal, Have Fun/Recreation, Help Others, Explore, Read, Start a New Hobby

These are the spokes that come out from your main topic. Then add specific things that you want to do under each. For example, under Help Others, you might list Deliver flowers or a treat to a neighbor, Call an isolated relative weekly, etc.

Then start a new mind map for each subtopic, add the ideas as subtopics and think of how, when and who would be involved in each one. Here’s where you may weed out things you don’t want to do, and you can always add additional things that come to mind.

Mind maps become a planning tool that are good reminders of the larger picture and help keep track of details. Keeping your mind maps in a folder or binder is helpful.

Use Bucket Lists

Another helpful tool are Bucket Lists. I have 2 sets of Summer Bucket Lists – 1 sheet for each month May through August. They have mandala coloring headers for more fun. Check them out here:

Summer Bucket Lists Flower Mandalas to Color Printable 5 – Etsy

Summer Bucket Lists Butterfly Mandalas to Color Printable – Etsy

Cover of Planner & Journal

Use a Planner and Journal

Once you have created a Summer Vision Board and/or Mind Map, this could help you continue the planning and record your experiences: Planner & Journal: For Day Trips: Getaways and Mini-Vacations 


I’m Carol Brusegar, author, photographer and curator of information. My focus is on gathering and writing on topics that enhance all our lives – regardless of our age. Topics include health and wellness, personal development, innovation and creativity, and a variety of helpful, practical tools and practices. I have a special interest in helping people over 50 years of age to create their 3rd Age – the next stage of their lives – to be the best it can be.