Rawls suggests that we imagine creating a society, in this case our workplace, from scratch. Once one steps out from the veil into the workplace being envisioned, one could therefore end up being anybody. In a hospital environment, for instance, the person conducting this thought experiment should pretend that he or she could step out from behind the veil of ignorance to end up as an administrator, a doctor, an information desk clerk, a custodian, or a critical care nurse. The experimenter should imagine ending up as one who has worked at the hospital only for a week or for twenty years.
In this thought experiment, Rawls asks us to remain behind the veil of ignorance while we examine how we would like our little society to work. How is each individual being treated by his or her coworkers? Who seems to be the best off?
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Who seems to be the worst off, and how bad is their situation? Rawls argues that while we are behind the veil of ignorance, not knowing which role and situation we may step into, we are highly motivated to maximize the minimum , to assure that whoever is the worst off is as well off as possible, without sacrificing the overall success of the society or workplace, in our experiment as a whole. We are also motivated to seek fairness as far as possible for everyone.
In trying to practice empathy in the workplace, a nurse could put herself behind this veil of ignorance once a month, or once a week, and look around her. How would I feel about my daily activities? What would be hardest for me? What would bring me the most joy? Certainly a nurse may not be able to petition the administration for major changes that would help person X, but often simple changes or gestures of appreciation make a large difference.
And sometimes, a nurse should consider stepping out from the veil and finding herself to be one of the highest administrators. Often the joys and burdens of those in charge are the hardest to envision. In addition, any of us may be able to learn how to open our minds and hearts consciously, deliberately to one flash of insight that has the power to break down those walls between others and ourselves.
He suggests we ask ourselves:. What, then, is our neighbor? Lift up thy eyes, behold that life, and then turn away, and forget it as thou canst; but, if thou hast known that, thou hast begun to know thy duty.
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In this revelation that Royce wants us to find, there is real beauty. We are all connected, all creatures, by the undeniable fact that in all of us, "willful life is found.
Those of us who consistently practice empathy at the workplace may find ourselves less stressed and more energized because of this realization that we are, in a fundamental way, connected with all of our coworkers. We will find it easier to be ethical in our interactions with others, having a better understanding of what those others need and want from us and from the workplace in general. An additional boon of practicing empathy at the workplace is that it tends to be contagious. When one person openly and noticeably practices empathy, others around that person will be inspired to do the same.
Dinkins is an Associate Professor in the Philosophy Department at Wofford College in Spartanburg, SC, where she teaches courses in ancient Greek philosophy, 19th- and 20th-century German philosophy, philosophy of medicine, and philosophy through literature. She is co-moderator, with the President of Wofford College, Dr. James , W. On a certain blindness in human beings.
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Michie , S. Education: Causes and management of stress at work. Occupational and Environmental Medicine , 59 1 , Morse , J. Exploring empathy: A conceptual fit for nursing practice? Journal of Nursing Scholarship , 24 4 , Rawls , J. When I first watched the video below, I was reminded, and blown-away, by the notion that the smallest expressions of empathy make huge lasting impressions. The video has become a viral sensation, with 4,, views on YouTube, as of this writing.
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It may be viewed below :. Great article! Empathy is what makes the medical science work; patients should feel that they are in the right hands, in order to cope and heal. That is the first step towards any medical diagnosis. Unfortunately, doctors and nurses are so overburdened and hard-pressed for time, that this aspect of medicine is not being seen anymore.
My husband and I just moved to a new area, so I want to find a clinic we can go to in an emergency. Great article. Really great article. I think having a good understanding of how people feel, in addition to being a great doctor is a plus.
Having the knowledge on how to approach certain situations can be really helpful.