Communication Devotional, “Fighting Against the Empathy Deficit,” by Donna Elkins

Robert WoodsBlog, Member Publications: Other, News: Other Leave a Comment

Fighting Against the Empathy Deficit

When Joseph came to them the next morning, he saw that they were dejected. So, he asked Pharaoh’s officials, who were in custody with him in his master’s house, “Why are your faces so sad today?” Genesis 40: 6–7 (NIV)

Empathy has been defined as “one’s ability to connect with others and discern how they’re feeling, but also understand their perspectives.”¹

Author Jan Bruce explains how a lack of empathy—or “empathy deficit”—not only damages relationships but also hurts the workplace bottom line. In the current workplace, where over half the employees express high levels of stress and are strongly considering a change of job, an empathy deficit “is both a significant liability and an accelerator of these downward trends.”[1]

Likewise, mental health professionals argue that overexposure to internet images showing others’ in distress may stunt our ability to spot the cues that spark empathy. In one study of students aged 17 to 23, participants were asked to identify emotional facial expressions. When the students played a violent video game before the facial recognition task, they were much slower to recognize expressions.[2]

So how did Joseph, a prisoner himself for many years (see Genesis 39:20–23), manage to see dejection in the faces of his fellow prisoners and ask about their sadness even though he no doubt had plenty stress of his own?

The first step in building empathy is taking another’s perspective or viewpoint. Instead of just imagining how someone else might feel, asking questions will help you better understand their point of view. Joseph made it past the step of recognizing the facial expressions of his fellow prisoners. Rather than just noting the sadness in their faces and walking away, he asked about the cause of their feelings. The ensuing conversations led him to interpret their dreams, be involved in their future, and eventually rise out of prison himself.

The good news about empathy is that it is not a trait you are simply born with, but instead a learnable skill. One way we can start to address it is to take notice of the faces and body posture of those around us and take the time to ask them to share their feelings.

May the conversation that follows shake the prison walls.

Reflection: How often over the past week have you noticed facial expressions, whether happy or sad, on those around you and asked about their feelings?

Today’s Challenge: Write out a couple of questions that you might ask co-workers or family members or friends this week to check in on their feelings. Once you’ve written down the questions, make an effort to actually ask them.

  • Donna M. Elkins, Spalding University



[1] Bruce, J. (Jan. 18, 2022).  The empathy deficit and your bottom line.  Forbes.  Retrieved from:

[2] Small, G. & Vorgan, G. (Feb. 18, 2011). Is the internet killing empathy?  CNN.  Retrieved from:

Leave a Reply