The Power Of Empathy, Animated

Dr. Brene Brown’s poignant and popular talk on the “Power of Vulnerability” comes to life in a clever new animation.

Dr. Brene Brown’s 2010 TED Talk on “The Power of Vulnerability” has gotten nearly 12.5 million views online. And it’s no wonder: Brown delivers insights into human connection, vulnerability, authenticity, and shame with humor and deeply personal stories that avoid the kind of platitudes and sugarcoating that self-help skeptics love to hate. Now, a clever new animation from RSA shorts, animated by Bristol-based Katy Davis (AKA Gobblynne), brings Brown’s wise words to life with cartoons of a sad fox, an empathetic bear, and a judgmental reindeer.


“Empathy fuels connection. Sympathy drives disconnection,” Brown explains in her talk. When the sympathetic but disconnected reindeer peeks into the fox’s dark hole, he tries to use a magic wand to add a silver lining to the fox’s cloud, effectively saying, “could be worse!” Brown explains how taking this kind of lecturing stance toward another’s suffering distances us from that person’s emotional experience, and fails to establish the kind of connection that leads to healing.

“I always think of empathy as this kind of sacred space,” Brown says. “When someone’s in a deep hole, and they shout out from the bottom and say ‘hey, I’m stuck, it’s dark, I’m overwhelmed,’ we look and climb down, and say, ‘I know what it’s like down here, and you’re not alone,’” Brene says in her talk. In the animation, Davis’s cuddly bear climbs into the fox’s hole of pain to keep her company. He doesn’t try to offer any mind-blowing advice, but instead gives her a hug and lets her know that he understands how she feels.

“I animate the old school way, as I love little imperfections and quirkiness, so I illustrate each frame by hand (25 frames per second),” Gobblynne tells Co.Design of her process. “I draw using pen on paper, then scan my illustrations in to my computer. I then clean and color in Photoshop, then composite everything together using After Effects.” Davis captures the humor of Brown’s speech with the odd eyeball roll and blank stare (“Want a sandwich?” the reindeer asks the sad fox, unhelpfully, then takes a bite). “I love the funny little bits in Brene’s speech, and it was satisfying to emphasize these points,” Davis says.

Brown’s speech is funny, but also sparks serious self-reflection. Without being preachy, it encourages viewers to question the way they empathize or sympathize with people in their lives. The cartoon lets viewers engage with Brown’s material in a playful and lighthearted way.

[h/t Brain Pickings]

About the author

Carey Dunne is a Brooklyn-based writer covering art and design. Follow her on Twitter.