Thoughts on Empathy, Criticism, and Seeking Validation

This is an imperfect blog post. Welcome. (I’ve bolded my favorite takeaways for those of you who are in the mood to scan quickly)

During a recent TedTalk TalkBack event with friends, our conversation started around the TedTalk “Empathy is not an Endorsement” by Dylan Marron. While the TedTalk itself is a bit more like an inspirational Instagram image (focusing more on the DO rather than the HOW), it did give our group a great jumping-off-point for a vibrant discussion.

Here are some notes I took before and during the TalkBack.


  • You don’t have to agree with someone to recognize their humanity
  • This is “not a prescription for activism” — some folks don’t feel safe approaching their critics and folks who are marginalized may not have the energy to give empathy. I was glad Dylan made a point to share this near the end of the talk
  • Dylan expected to find shared humanity, which likely made his experience easier for him
  • Criticism isn’t always personal. Sometimes criticism, esp when it is in the form of trolling, has more to do with the critic and their state then it has to do with you
  • “Sometimes the most subversive thing you could do was to actually speak WITH the people you disagreed with, not simply at them.
  • WITH (not at). I invite myself and others to ask questions more.


  • Focus on the issue, not the identity of the person you are talking with, when arguing a point
  • It helps to check in on our own intent, energy and mood before engaging on social media. Check in — are we looking to argue, to “be right”? Are we seeking out something to criticize? What is it we’re looking for when we open up Facebook?
  • It can be helpful to check in to see if we are approaching engagement from a “what can I learn from this” attitude rather than a “What can I find wrong with this” subconscious goal?


  • This topic reminds me of an “Unlocking Us” podcast episode with Brene Brown and Vivek Murthy (who was our Surgeon General under Obama and will be again under Biden/Harris and is a DELIGHT to listen and learn from, I just discovered).
  • “Relationship is the foundation of dialogue” — Vivek Murthy
  • We live in a world, and especially now at a time when the world around us is often chaotic, and being able to let that noise settle, and center ourselves, and be in a place of peace is so powerful. Because when we approach other people from that place of groundedness, and when we approach other people knowing our true sense of worth and believing in ourselves, the kind of interaction we have is very different. We approach people with a willingness to listen and an ability to more be ourselves, as opposed to trying to get something from them, which is a sense of validation, as we try to be somebody that they think we should be.” — Vivek, on Unlocking Us
  • I love this. Reminds me of one of Brene’s mantras: “I’m here to get it right, not to be right” too
  • Approaching others for genuine connection and understanding, with some openness, willingness to ask questions and a curiosity, will get us farther than approaching others for validation or to pull them over to our side


  • I don’t know a single person who had their mind change about a big important belief because of a stranger’s comment to their post on social media. Do you?
  • I have found including “I wish you peace.” a good signoff when I am done with a conversation where I don’t agree with the other person. It makes me feel better about the tone of ending it and sets a subtle boundary of “I’m done.”


  • what has to shift within to allow for online criticism?
  • ask “Is it valuable to engage?” or is it more valuable and self-respecting to ignore and move on
  • There is no perfect. There is no way that you can reach a giant audience with your work or words, without criticism. Sometimes I believe there will be a “perfect” way to say something. A “perfect” video, a “perfect” blog post. But the truth is, if your work or message reaches a certain number of people, it is going to get criticized. I am working at internalizing a new reframe: when I get criticism, it’s a sign that my work is reaching a LOT of people. Of course, I’ll listen to criticism when it comes from many and from valued sources. But if it’s just a troll on the internet, I’ll reframe that as proof that a lot of people are seeing what I’ve shared in the world! And MOST of them like it! (This is self-talk I’m working on for myself. Feel free to borrow it if it resonates for you.)

Ultimately, the conversation and tedtalk left more questions being asked than answered. We can only control our side of a conversation. Sometimes it’s good to notice when we can soften, be open, ask questions. Sometimes the healthy response is to step away, close facebook, respect our own boundaries. Sometimes the answer is something different.

Thanks for going on this thought journey with me! I would love to hear from you if you’d like to share in the comments.

Sending you love, Keridwyn

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