Mandela Day's 67 minutes will never be enough - we need to learn the habits of empathy daily - expert

Illustration. Getty Images
Illustration. Getty Images
  • Mandela Day is observed annually on 18 July internationally in honour of the late former president Nelson Mandela.
  • It was first held in 2010, and, if not for Covid-19, we would be celebrating 10 years of goodwill and acts of kindness with those most in need in more fitting ways.
  • It is important for us to not only exercise empathy for 67 minutes once a year, though. This Mandela Day, we should offer a commitment to practice empathy going forward, author Mimi Nicklin advises.

Mimi Nicklin is an empathy expert and the Author of Softening The Edge (available August 2020), and this Mandela Day she illustrates what empathy looks like beyond 67-minute acts of charity. 

Having lived and worked in London, Hong Kong, Singapore, Cape Town, Johannesburg and Dubai, Mimi's uniquely global perspective changes organisations from the inside out, focusing on cultural, behavioural and mindset change.

Currently based in Dubai, she is a natural coach, writer and creative mind, and has held roles as diverse as Strategic Director, Global Vice President and Regional Creative Officer in some of the world's leading advertising agencies. 

Mimi's passion for balancing humanism with capitalism therefore drives her commitment to leading the practice of regenerative and empathetic leadership, and her "principles of people", into organisations worldwide. 

mimi nicklin
Image supplied 

Here, Mimi Nicklin shares her thoughts with W24 on how we can start driving habits of empathy in our daily lives:

Mandela Day 2020 will be a day more critically connecting than any we have had. It falls amid a lockdown, fearful society that is spending their days dodging the threat of an invisible flu that holds a power well beyond the virus name would suggest. We are living through an economic crisis that leaves our businesses on the edge and our anxiety in constant flux, and there are more hungry mouths and unemployed families than we can reach.  

It was Nelson Mandela who said it is our compassion that "binds us together". He was of course a man who believed in ubuntu - in understanding each other, and in reaching out to those around us in dignity, respect and acceptance. He believed in empathy.

READ MORE | Experts reveal Broken Heart Syndrome cases are soaring amid the Covid-19 pandemic 

This Mandela Day - beyond our actions on the day itself - let's commit to look at how we create a more long-lasting impact into the second half of this tumultuous double-20 year. How we, like Madiba, can activate our empathy to create shared agendas, mutual strength and community recovery at a pace that resembles recovery. Arguably the most undervalued super power that we have, it will be empathy that allows us to have a recurring impact on those around us far beyond July 18th's 24 (change-making) hours. 

Often mistaken as a skill we are born with more or less of, empathy is a natural ability we all possess, connecting us to those around us and allowing us to see the world from the stance of another. It is on days like this that our ability to deeply connect with people will allow us to gain in both unity in the long term. 

Committing to the practice; how might we improve our empathy this Mandela Day and beyond?  

We must learn the three habits that drive empathy: 

Be present

Make the people you speak to feel like they are the only person in the room. On 18 July, many of us might have conversations with those less fortunate. This is a time to ensure you are using active listening. Phrases like "what I'm hearing you say is..." makes the speaker feel further encouraged, as well as ensuring you can really hear what is being communicated to you. Ensure you listen to their words and their meaning, beyond hearing the speaker's voice alone. 

Lean Forward

Remember that the majority of our communication is non-verbal so be conscious to use your body language to promote engagement and connectivity with those around you, especially if you don't share a spoken language. Lean inward towards the speaker ensuring your body language is open - with uncrossed arms - and that your eye contact remains focused. 

Learn a new language

Mandela famously said "talk to a man in a language and it goes to his head, but speak to a man in his language and it goes to his heart".

We live in a country of so many mother tongues yet we so often speak only our own. It's time we take a pledge to learn a new language, not just for this day but for every day.

If only to say "good morning, how are you?" in a language different to yours, you could be making someone's day, every day, for many months and years ahead, because after all is said and done, recognition for who we are, being seen, is our greatest human motivator. 

READ MORE | Why living empathetically now might be the secret to post-Covid relationship building 

67 minutes collectively represents a critically binding commitment, but alone these minutes will never be enough. Not for this year, not for 2020. This Mandela Day, beyond your actions, offer a commitment to practice empathy going forward.

To connecting, to understanding, to continually viewing the world of another, from eyes far from your own. May the 18 July mark the beginning of a new practice. To seeing our fellow humans not just for a day, but every day. It may turn out to be the greatest gifts you ever give.  

Mimi Nicklin's Secrets of the Gap is available on Apple Podcasts, Spotify and other podcast platforms. Listen to a podcast here 

You can also pre-order her debut book, Softening the Edge here

Compiled by Afika Jadezweni

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