Systemic change presupposes looking through the eyes of another and seeing what they see… with a fresh pair of eyes … and often helping those trapped in a system to see themselves in a new way that gives hope.

As I watched this brief video on EMPATHY from the Cleveland Clinic my mind made multiple connections. This brief reflection concerns one of the directions I initially did not see. The connection between empathy and our efforts at fostering and enabling systemic change.

So often we walk right past immediate needs without seeing the person. What would happen if, seeing other persons, we entered into their world.

If you could stand in someone else’s shoes . . . hear what they hear… See what they see… Feel what they feel…

  • Would you treat them differently?
  • Would you be able to help them to see something they can not yet see?

Certainly, patient care, in fact, pastoral ministry in any setting, is more than just healing — it’s building a connection that encompasses mind, body and soul.

But what happens when we make the connections with the lens of systemic change?

Systemic change focuses on designing projects that have a holistic vision, addressing a series of basic human needs – individual and social, spiritual and physical, especially jobs, health care, housing, education, spiritual growth – with an integral approach toward self-help, sustainable development, and the training of local leaders.

These are all needs that too often we walk right past and do not see.

I suggest a simple exercise in seeing. It is a variation of sitting in a public park and looking at people as they walk by. But this time, it is an exercise in empathy.

  • What might each individual be struggling with?
  • What might you see that they can not yet see?
  • What systems are they trapped in?
  • What would help them see something that would give them hope of breaking the cycle?

They key to systemic change is in empathy… first seeing the world through their eyes. Then seeing through the lens of what gives hope.


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