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Episode #094

How to Bring Empathy into Your Conservation Photography with Eric Bailey


UPDATED: May 24, 2023


Empathy is critical to effective conservation visual storytelling, especially as we find ourselves more divided than ever and living on a planet sliding quickly into climate crisis. But who receives our empathy? And how do we muster it up in the face of conflict? We answer these questions and more with a brain science and communication expert.


“Are All Human Beings Worthy Of Empathy?” 

That was the subject line of an email that landed in my inbox one morning.

Serious props go out to the copywriter who drafted it.

How could I not click it to find out the answer? 

But it wasn't just curiosity that made me open the email.

I was also looking to see if the sender was somehow giving me permission to give up.

See, no matter how committed I stay to the premise that to gain ground on your issue, you have to meet others who disagree with you where they are and start the conversation there….

…sometimes I DON'T WANT TO. I want to give up on them. I want to stamp my feet and say “you're just wrong” (plus expletives) and dismiss them entirely as too far gone to even bother talking to.

I know I'm not alone in this, too. We all have those moments of feeling like someone just doesn't deserve our emotional energy. 

Because empathy is hard work. Maintaining empathy especially for someone you whole-heartedly disagree with on a conservation issue (or perhaps even view as the enemy) takes commitment, courage and a whole lot of confidence in where you stand on the issue. 

As conservation-focused photographers and filmmakers, we often forget that while creating images is indeed hard work, making the positive impact we dream of with those images is the hardest work of all. 

So… I opened that email wondering, “Is someone going to tell me it's ok to give up on some people?” 

And the person providing the answer is Eric Bailey, a brain science and communication expert, bestselling author of The Cure for Stupidity: Using Brain Science to Explain Irrational Behavior and President of Bailey Strategic Innovation Group, one of the fastest-growing human communication consulting firms in the United States. 

In this interview, Eric provides a whole lot of insight into what empathy actually is and one of the most empowering lessons I've ever had on what it means to provide empathy to another person. 

And of course you'll hear about the powerful position you can maintain in conversations with anyone you disagree with thanks to the practice of empathy. 

You'll Learn:

  • the difference between empathy and sympathy
  • the role empathy plays in effective conservation photography and filmmaking
  • surprising biases you didn't even know you have
  • finding empathy for yourself when you struggle with trying to make a difference


Resources Mentioned

Episode 094: How to Bring Empathy into Your Conservation Photography with Eric Bailey

Shownotes: ConservationVisuals.com/94

(Digitally transcribed, please forgive any typos)

Jaymi Heimbuch:
[00:00:00] Jaymi: Hello, Eric Bailey. Thank you so much for joining us on impact the conservation photography podcast today.

[00:00:07] Jaymi: So you are a very special guest. Typically we have photographers, filmmakers, creators of some kind, and you are an expert in a whole other realm. When I saw the email come through about potentially interviewing you.

[00:00:22] Jaymi: I could not say yes, fast enough. So can you tell us a little bit about what.

[00:00:27] Eric: Yeah. So my there's a couple of things. There's what I say I do. And then there's what I really do. And so what I say I do is I help people understand, you know, leadership and communication and diversity and empathy. But what I really do is I'm a geek for the brain science of human interaction.

[00:00:44] Eric: And so. Brain science is not really a, an actual subject, but it's actually an amalgamation of psychology and neuroscience and anthropology and linguistics and all of that. And so I've identified because I read a lot of geeky research papers that there's some [00:01:00] basic underlying elements that help us understand each other and kind of help us go off track from each other sometimes.

[00:01:06] Eric: And so I've learned how to translate all that into helping us engage with each other.

[00:01:12] Jaymi: Ah, that is such a beautiful description. And one of the reasons why I was so excited to get your email. Empathy is an issue that comes up really often. Communication is an issue that comes up really often. Understanding perspectives comes up really often, psychology, everything, all of this comes up inside of conservation, visual storytelling, but often not until you actually are putting your images to use.

[00:01:36] Jaymi: And what I constantly am saying is that the only thing that sets conservation photography apart from any other. Nature landscape wildlife photography is it's about what you do with your imagery to create understanding, and action about an issue. So all of this comes up, but we often don't necessarily talk specifically about this.

[00:01:54] Jaymi: So to have an expert come in and dive into this together, oh, we're in for some [00:02:00] nerding out

[00:02:02] Eric: it's really important. And it's one of those things. When we experience it, we feel it wholly. And when it's not there, it just it's just like everything else. And I think that we're, if we're intentional about the information or the images that we put out into the world with the intention of connecting.

[00:02:21] Eric: Like that's where we can make differences, make changes because there's, we've all had experiences where something hits us and we're like, oh my God, that's it. Like I am in that image. I actually I, I, we obviously can't share this through the audio, but maybe I'll send it to you and you can forward it out.

[00:02:34] Eric: But when I was working at the Phoenix. I was in charge of at one point and my decade long career there, I was in charge of marketing. And so, you know, this is back in the early two thousands, late two thousands. And of course Twitter was this new thing. And so I had my phone and we had just opened up a brand new orangutan exhibit and we had this.

[00:02:53] Eric: Glass face to face experience. We've never had that before. And I had my phone and I got [00:03:00] face to face with a Duchess who was the oldest Bornean orangutan on the planet. And I had my phone. I was just, I didn't know I was hitting record, but I was just face-to-face with her. And someone took a photo of me looking at her and her looking at me.

[00:03:17] Eric: And when you see that photo, it's like, oh, that's that's connection. And when you start to realize that you can use images to tell emotion stories. That's when we can really start feeling what each other feels and as your house.

[00:03:33] Jaymi: Yeah, it is, it is, well, I want to start off on kind of a basic foot, which is what is empathy?

[00:03:41] Jaymi: Like, can we start with kind of a definition or a way that all of us can get on the same page when we're, as we talk about it throughout this whole episode?

[00:03:47] Eric: Yeah, absolutely. So, so one thing that's really, I always like to start out with is that empathy and sympathy are completely different things. They actually both start cause I'm a, I love linguistics.

[00:03:56] Eric: So it entomology they both have the root root word payphone. [00:04:00] Right. So there's a Greek root pathos, meaning feeling or suffering sometimes, but sympathy is I'm, you know, I'm, I'm with your feelings or with your suffering, whereas empathy I'm in your feelings and in your suffering. So we think about empathy.

[00:04:15] Eric: We're actually talking about getting inside of the experience of another and whether that's another human or another animal or another experience or another tribe or anything, when you're empathizing, you're actually. Letting go of your experience of the world and temporarily going inside of theirs.

[00:04:32] Eric: And from that point, you can experience the world differently and it sometimes it's fleeting, but, but that's really what empathy is actually getting inside of the experience or, you know, suffering of another. That

[00:04:43] Jaymi: is such a concise definition that I think brought out something that I never really thought about because I thought about empathy is I knew that empathy and sympathy were two different things, but I've always thought about empathy as being able to feel the same emotions as someone else and understand what it is that they're feeling at the same [00:05:00] time.

[00:05:00] Jaymi: But the idea of being in that emotion with someone is a very different way. Conceptualizing it and understanding that experience when you have it. Well, the subject line of the email that was sent to me from your PR team about being on the podcast was so good and it is do all humans deserve. Empathy. And this brought up immediately a very vivid story for me of an, a past experience where I was driving with a very dear friend of mine to do a shoot, a conservation focused shoot, and it was a long drive.

[00:05:35] Jaymi: And so he started chitchatting about, you know, some of these deeper philosophical topics inside of conservation visual storytelling. And I can't remember the exact flow of the conversation, but something got brought up about. Being in certain conservation situations where there are people at odds with each other.

[00:05:52] Jaymi: And I said, yeah, but we have a responsibility to understand their perspective and to be forgiving, you know, don't, don't [00:06:00] all human beings kind of deserve that kind of empathetic benefit of the doubt. And she, who is the most empathetic person I've ever met in my life. Like she always sees other people's sites.

[00:06:11] Jaymi: She always allows benefit of the doubt she was. Absolutely not. There are people who just do not deserve my empathy. I'm done with them. I like when it comes to this conservation issue, I'm just done with them. So I would love to talk with you about cause right behind you on the wall is we're video chatting.

[00:06:29] Jaymi: It says believe that there is goodness in the people of the. And right now inside of this world, especially if you are a us citizen and quite a few other countries it's very hard to believe in the goodness that exists in other people on opposing. So we dive into that loaded question.

[00:06:48] Eric: Yes. And so it's really interesting because there's a lot of nuance here. And I think one of the things that we, especially in the U S that we can do better at is understanding that there is nuance. It's [00:07:00] not, everything is good, bad, black, white, right, wrong. There's there's nuance. But what the nuance with this idea of deserving empathy and I'm using air quotes here is that.

[00:07:11] Eric: If empathy, isn't something we deserve. Right? Empathy. If you think about it. I remember one time I was, I got a ticket while driving, and so I had to go to traffic school and, you know, the online traffic school. And one of the things that I remember, one of the only things I remember from that was, they said you don't.

[00:07:28] Eric: Have the right of way, someone must yield to you the right of way. So if someone is actually giving you something. So I think about that, I think empathy is the same way. Like you don't deserve empathy, but I have the opportunity to give you empathy. And that's where it's really unique. And so really it's a personal choice in all of us.

[00:07:49] Eric: Moment to moment person by person situation by situation, we can provide empathy or we can explore empathy, or we can choose not to. [00:08:00] And the most amazing thing kind of back to this nuance idea is that let's say you and I have some blow up, like we're not friends anymore or whatever I can choose in this moment to no longer grant you.

[00:08:13] Eric: And then time may pass. Things may heal. We may have a conversation. And then I choose again to then offer you empathy and cardigan inside of your experience. And so it's, it's not like a light switch it's on or it's off, but really there are different ways in which people can experience empathy or give empathy toward someone else.

[00:08:33] Eric: And that's, that's what I think is, is really powerful. If you have at this moment, the capacity to empathize with someone you disagree with, fundamentally, that is as a powerful thing you can do. That's a very powerful thing, but you are not required to do that. And I think that's, that's where knowing that this is a choice we can.

[00:08:55] Eric: Can really start to build those bridges because like, you know, you don't have to, [00:09:00] no, you don't have to do anything, but you can write. That's a really

[00:09:04] Jaymi: great point. It feels very empowering to say, well, I own my empathy in a way. Like I own my ability to be empathetic and I get to decide when I do and don't want to provide that.

[00:09:16] Jaymi: But when I do this, To provide empathy or give empathy to someone. I am actually making a very powerful move. So you're not becoming more vulnerable or weak inside of that. You're actually being more powerful by ending up like that. That's hard to, yeah, it is.

[00:09:31] Eric: It is. And here's the crazy thing is that there's this idea that I've been kind of working with over the last year.

[00:09:38] Eric: It's called the paradox of the enlightened. And so the more that you know about how empathy works, the more you know about forgiveness or you know, about your own emotions, your own self-awareness the more you know about that, the more likely you are called to be the bigger person. And I hear people. I do a lot of work with people on crucial conversations and difficult conversations.[00:10:00]

[00:10:00] Eric: And the more they know about those tools and recognizing the triggers for people. So the physiological manifestations of danger when people are like their fists clench or their faces turn red or whatever, when you recognize those things, you can say, oh, they're feeling unsafe. I can modulate my behavior to make sure they feel safe again.

[00:10:17] Eric: And then rethink. Which means that you're always the one to have to do that, which is difficult. Right. And especially in this day and age where everyone is fighting about everything for any reason. Right now, here we are again, in a place where I have to choose to be the biggest.

[00:10:36] Jaymi: Oh, absolutely. there's so many places that I want to go right now, their brain is being very, very pulled.

[00:10:41] Jaymi: I would like to ask you about using empathy in sometimes more passive ways when we're behind a camera. But before we do that, you mentioned a really specific tool, which is crucial conversations, so, and crucial conversations, nonviolent communication. These are strategies that I do. [00:11:00] My students about or at least recommend that they get familiar with them.

[00:11:03] Jaymi: Could you tell us a little bit about what that is?

[00:11:06] Eric: Yeah. So, so essentially it's this idea that there are certain conversations, certain situations where for lack of a better term, we don't behave. As human as we normally do. And so physiological what's happening is our amygdala is recognizing a threat or a danger.

[00:11:24] Eric: And this can happen because we're actually in physical danger or because someone said something that offended us, or they said that we're stupid or whatever. Our amygdala will actually send a signal to our adrenal glands and start pumping out epinephrin adrenaline. And the blood from our frontal lobe where our language center exists actually gets diverted out to our arms and our legs.

[00:11:44] Eric: So we have, we have less blood oxygen available in our executive function of the brain. I'm a nerd for brain science. So you just sit with me for a minute.

[00:11:53] Jaymi: I feel though, because when I get mad, I'm like you eat good.

[00:11:57] Eric: You can't find the words, but then like, what an hour [00:12:00] later, like, oh, I should've said this and this and this.

[00:12:01] Eric: Right. Because the blood's been restored. And so what happens is if you understand what happens to you physiologically, like, for me, like I sweat out of my armpits, nowhere else, just my armpits, my hands will jitter. My lip will quiver. And I can't find, you know the I can't think of the read words.

[00:12:16] Eric: And so and so like all of those are my signals and so I can recognize those now it's oh, when this is happening. Oh, I. My body's reacting as if you're a saber tooth tiger. You know? I should probably take a couple breaths and call. And the power in that is I know now that when those things happen, I'm not going to perform at my best.

[00:12:38] Eric: My, my, the human part of my brain is not ready to fire and I'm going to behave like an animal. Right. And so that helps. But then also I can start to recognize what your physiological signs and symptoms might be as well. And so if I notice like your skin gets splotchy, or you start to perspire or your wards get faster or higher, you start to shrink back, or I [00:13:00] can look at those physiological reactions and say, oh, she sees me as a saber today.

[00:13:05] Eric: It's my job to make you feel safe again before I re-engage in the conversation. And so, you know, for me, usually what I see is that there's some element of respect that has been tipped. So I don't want you to feel like I've disrespected you. If I've said anything, help me understand what I said that made you feel disrespected.

[00:13:24] Eric: I wanna be very clear. I respect you. Right. And so like, make the person feel safe again, and then re-engage. It's this process, by which again, the paradox of the enlightened right, is, is you usually show up as the bigger person, the calmer head. And when you do that, you actually find that evil, you pause a conversation for a moment.

[00:13:46] Eric: You'll actually get better results down the road because the relationships will get stronger because the person feels truly respected. They feel cared for, they feel under. And that that feeling of being understood is like, [00:14:00] I don't know, it happens. It's happened to me like a few times in my life and like completely wholly understood like that it's the best feeling in the world.

[00:14:07] Eric: And what would the world look like? We chose to give that to other people.

[00:14:13] Jaymi: Well, one thing I know would happen. Your ability to tell a full story as a conservation photographer or a filmmaker would dramatically expand. Because one of the things that we hear questions about, especially from those who are entering into the field of conservation visual storytelling.

[00:14:30] Jaymi: So as photographers, filmmakers is how do you continue. To document or tell a story when what's happening in front of you is something that you disagree with, or you have to deal with people that you strongly disagree with. How do you continue to tell that story? So what you're talking about right now is critical to understand and know when you need to make inroads with people who are on the quote unquote opposite side of.

[00:14:57] Jaymi: An issue or maybe they [00:15:00] are like the actors of a behavior that you want to see change, but your responsibility or you choose to have the responsibility you choose to document their kind of side of the story or their behaviors to be able to fully tell it to be a full. Um, To an issue and it sounds like you can really go into a situation with someone who, you know, is kind of on the other side of a conservation issue, but in all fairness, as someone documenting or witnessing something that you need to show them, show them fairly, show them accurately.

[00:15:33] Jaymi: And now you have tools to sort of win trust, because that's about, I feel like trust and respect are huge parts of that. So what are it you like? Tools already, but what are some kind of concrete tools that when you, as someone who needs to get your subject to feel calm, feel open, feel respected in front of your camera.

[00:15:54] Jaymi: How do you recognize when they're shutting down or when that amygdala is firing like crazy?

[00:15:59] Eric: Yeah. [00:16:00] So one of the most important things to do that I've found in engaging with people that I disagree with. I'm the weirdo who actively seeks those situations because I want to continue practicing. Right. I think that our world, we would be better if we were better capable of sitting down and discussing with people, disagree with.

[00:16:17] Eric: And so what I've found is that every single person that I've ever disagreed with argued with fought with, they believe to their core, that they are logical and they're rational. And my natural idea of them is that they are illogical, immoral, right? All of these things. And there's, there's clearly something wrong with them.

[00:16:41] Eric: And so I have to suspend my judgment. I have to, because the weird thing is that when we go into these situations, you know, we're kind of bumping heads with each other. My, my, my kind of core says, I can change your mind. I I'm going to be able to change your [00:17:00] mind if I could just say the right thing at the right time.

[00:17:02] Eric: And there, if I try that, they're going to do the same thing and try to change my mind, because I mean, think about this. Like if you, if you come into a situation and you like throw facts and figures and data and logic at someone and say, see your raw. Right. They don't usually turn around after the bludgeoned, over the head with facts and data, they say, oh, you know what?

[00:17:21] Eric: You're right. Thank you so much. And now I'm on your team. Like, that's not what the people do, right? But they say, well, leaders, they dig their heels in deeper, and then they throw their facts and figures and data at you. And if you can suspend your judgment, suspend your righteousness, suspend your desire to convert.

[00:17:40] Eric: You might find their humanity. And that is something that is so powerful because if you go a layer or two underneath someone's idea, You'll find some purpose there that you can probably agree with and understand. And so even if it's like a really powerful conservation issue or deep, [00:18:00] deeply political issue, and you're like, oh, you're so wrong, but I need to just let that go.

[00:18:05] Eric: And you might even just try asking them some question. How did you arrive at this idea? Tell me the story. What was the first time you thought about this? You know, and try to get the humanity underneath it. Cause it's almost always there, right? Someone will tell a story about, oh one time my grandfather, you know, did this, saw this experience, this and that led to me going down this path.

[00:18:28] Eric: And you're like, oh, I can remember my grandfather telling me a story similar. I took it a different path, but I understand the humanity. And from that point, It's actually a lot easier because now you've stepped inside of their experience. Right. You stepped inside their feelings with empathy, right. And that's now you don't have to change each other's minds.

[00:18:48] Eric: And you're not going to change each other. So one thing I ask people all the time is, you know, cause people are on social media and they're keyboard warrior, and trying to beat each other up. And I'm like, have you ever solved any [00:19:00] political issue? Have you ever got any policy written by arguing about it on Facebook?

[00:19:05] Eric: It's like, I know that's not, that's not, what's going to happen, but. There is an opportunity to connect and this idea of what I call being radically curious. If you can be radically curious about someone, what motivates them, what drives them? What's their past their experience. You might learn their humanity and like it, right.

[00:19:24] Eric: You might like maybe not their conclusions, but you like their humanity. And then you can, you can really tell their story act.

[00:19:30] Jaymi: Um, You said something that brought yet another street, you have a way of saying things that bring very vivid stories to my mind. And I'm a huge fan of Ted lasso and boiler alert.

[00:19:41] Jaymi: There is an episode where he is in the midst of basically defeating the bully and he does so in such a calm way, by telling his own story that, you know, he was really mad at these bullies one day. Um, And he was driving his, he dropped his kid off at school and striving by and he saw a mural that said Oh, I'm [00:20:00] going to misquote it now, but it basically was like, you know, the problems of the world could be solved if you were more curious, oh, don't be judgmental.

[00:20:05] Jaymi: Be curious. And so he said, oh, then I understood that these bullies, they just, they weren't curious about me. They didn't ask any questions about me. They didn't understand me. And, and so that was like the source of this thing. And so he finally Beats this bully by saying they're in the middle of a dark match.

[00:20:24] Jaymi: And he says, so you never asked, like if I enjoyed playing darts and then he flings it and hits the bull's-eye and wins and makes the day, but that always stuck with me after watching. That was the idea of the more you can pause your judgment and pause what you assume to be true and say, okay, well, I'm going to be curious instead, and I'm going to ask questions about this.

[00:20:46] Jaymi: The more it releases you from. Literal physical feeling of tension and allows you to be open and allows you to just take an information and then move forward. And I feel like you, you kind of told us that we have [00:21:00] permission to explore that and to not have to say, oh, well, I want to change someone's mind because it's not going to happen.

[00:21:07] Jaymi: Right. Right. I always ask people to find their why in conservation photography, why are you doing this? And really get inside your gut? Like, why are you doing this? And a lot of times the response I hear, and this is a perfectly valid, great responses. I want to make people understand.

[00:21:23] Jaymi: I want to make people aware. I want to something where you're changing others. Do you feel, and I'm going to put you on the spot a little bit. So I apologize that this is a difficult question, but do you think that there's a way. To reframe that still have that same kind of goal, but maybe to approach it with something that has more of that curiosity rather than judgment in

[00:21:46] Eric: it.

[00:21:47] Eric: Yeah. That's, that's really interesting because as you were saying that I want, I want to change others. That, that really is. That's really the mantra of conservation, right? Is we want to get people who don't care [00:22:00] to care, but I think more accurately it's to get people who don't know to know. And I think that, you know, trying to change people might be a little lofty, but I'll actually want to tell a story that may help your audience. Right? So, so I used to work at the Phoenix zoo and I worked in all different departments, never on the animal side, always in the front of house. So I was manager of, of the carousel of the cattle, corn, and the guest services, the front gate, the membership, like all of these different departments.

[00:22:28] Eric: I eventually through marketing and, you know, I worked at the zoo. I wore my, you know, khaki cargo shorts and my polo and my name tag every day. And you know, my kids were born. Well, I was working there and so I would take my kids to the zoo and because I love zoos and zoos are, you know, all about, cause most zoos are all about conservation, right.

[00:22:49] Eric: And trying to inspire people to care for the natural world. My kids grew this desire for the natural world. And when I think about, you conservation storytelling, [00:23:00] conservation photography, it's not about getting the climate denier to say, you know what, you're right. It's probably about inspiring that kid who happened to come across that image in that one magazine.

[00:23:16] Eric: And that got him excited about like my son is the youngest. My 13 year old son is the youngest ever volunteer for the Phoenix herpetological sanctuary, which is the largest reptile sanctuary in the United States. I've got this image of him carrying a green and a conduct this snake is 16 feet long and he's there at.

[00:23:37] Eric: at a school, helping other kids learn about snakes. And so like this thing is like wrapped around him, like 10 times. It's the most amazing picture. But I think that the point shouldn't be to like, get that one that one on the other side of the spectrum, but to spark that curiosity spark that, that, that, that joy spark that [00:24:00] wonder.

[00:24:01] Eric: That kid or those kids, because that's, what's going to build the momentum for the movement, right. It's not going to be getting, you know, the, the naysayer to finally say, yay, but it's about getting a lot of people inspired to follow in your footsteps.

[00:24:17] Jaymi: I love that. I love the idea of. It isn't about changing minds.

[00:24:23] Jaymi: It's about inspiring thought pathways inside of your work. That is such a great way to look at that. I'm curious, you have worked with everyone from Google to police departments to cities. What do you recommend are tools or. Avenues or practices where we can cultivate that spirit of empathy in ourselves, especially if there are any tools that you can think of that as a conservation photographer knows that they're going into a shoot that may be difficult for them or that they need to tackle this [00:25:00] aspect of their story.

[00:25:00] Jaymi: And they're going into that. Is there something that can emotionally prepare them to be empathetic and practice them?

[00:25:07] Eric: Yeah. So, so in my book, it's called the cure for stupidity. It's a fun, fun title. Uh, Well, let me

[00:25:13] Jaymi: tell you, I told my boyfriend that I was going to interview you. And I was like, yeah, he's the author of the book, the cure for stupidity.

[00:25:19] Jaymi: And he was like, he has my vote of approval already.

[00:25:25] Eric: It's it's a, it's a fun book. Um, Basically you know, I work all around the world and I do speaking engagements and I found that people kept asking me like, you know, you say you have all these principles. I want to know all of them. And like, well, we just don't have time to go through all of them. And so I wrote the book and it goes through all 22, the principles, and one of them is called difference between perception and reality.

[00:25:45] Eric: And a lot of times we have this, concept, even cliche, that perception equals reality, but it's not. Right. Perception does not equal there's there's so many examples of us, you know, in a situation you and me standing side by side, looking at the same piece of art [00:26:00] and we will perceive completely different things.

[00:26:02] Eric: Right. You know, even, I don't know if you, the, the, the things like broke the internet, like the shoe that's, is it pink and white is a grantee, or is the dress black and blue or whatever. Right. We will perceive different things. Right. When you start to engage with people, just know that 100% of your life has been lived through your experiences, through your perceptions, through your understanding.

[00:26:25] Eric: And you've been successful to this point. And so what your brain wants to do is your brain wants to predict or expect that the world is going to continue in the way it has for you in the past. Well, and that's great, right? Relying in predictability is it makes your, makes your brain easy. Cognitive ability is not smoother.

[00:26:42] Eric: Okay. Other people may have different experiences, right? Different sets of, of perceptions, different ways of seeing the world and they have different expectations. And when you run into them, sometimes it really causes kind of cognitive dissonance. And so this idea. [00:27:00] Their perception is their perception.

[00:27:02] Eric: Your perception is your perception and somewhere in the middle is reality. And so when you go and you engage with someone who disagrees with you or has have fundamental opposite side from you, what you want to do is you want to say, okay, The way I see the world is just the way I see it. It's not the way the world actually is the way they see the world.

[00:27:23] Eric: It's just the way they see it. It's not the way the world actually is. And so from that point, you can let go a little bit of your perception and you can say, okay, how do they see the. What are the things that are motivating them to see that way. And when you start to do that, you're just, you know, you're dealing with their perceptions and it's, it's a safe place because you're not acknowledging that what they see is the way the world is.

[00:27:46] Eric: You're just saying, this is the way you see it. And that framing, it allows you to lead, be a little safer to explore it without having to give up your, your ideals or your motivations. And so that's, that's something that you can do to really [00:28:00] kind of step into someone else's. I

[00:28:03] Jaymi: love that, that, and also I think reading everything else inside the secure for stupidity, how do we get our hands on that book?

[00:28:12] Eric: Yeah. So you can grab it on Amazon. If you want, you can find it's just the cure for stupidity, or if you want to sign, copy, you can grab it at my website thecureforstupidity.com. Either way is fine, but it's, it's a fun book. And if you, if you read books, other people, it actually makes it. Book club book.

[00:28:29] Eric: Because actually when I was working in one of my forest Gumpian history jobs, like I've done a lot of things in my career. But I was working and I, I led book clubs in the part of a leadership development. as I was doing that, I'm like, you know, there are certain books that are really great for reading and sharing.

[00:28:44] Eric: And so when I wrote my own book, I'm like, I need to make a book. That's good for reading and sharing. And so that's, that's kind of, what's designed to do is kind of, you know, you and your spouse read it together or you you're right. You and your friends read it together. You and your parents read it together.

[00:28:57] Eric: Oh, that's why you do that. And [00:29:00] it's like, you know, it it's again, it's all about humanization.

[00:29:02] Jaymi: Thank you. I have so many more questions for you, so I hope that you don't mind hanging out for a little while longer. We've talked a lot about embracing empathy, practicing empathy for other people, but also what happens in sight conservation, visual storytelling, conservation, photography, filmmaking, all aspects of it.

[00:29:24] Jaymi: We can be very hard on ourselves as creatives for, are we doing a good enough job for this? Cause are we. Good enough as creatives to actually be like, who are we to represent this issue? I didn't do enough or I can't do enough. It's going to be doom and gloom. You know, it's going to be the end of the world.

[00:29:45] Jaymi: Don't look up all of it. What are tools where we can have empathy for ourselves in difficult situations?

[00:29:54] Eric: Yeah, that is, that is a very, very big question. And one of my, one of my [00:30:00] colleagues and best friends, dearest friends of the last two decades, Nicole, Lance she has this concept called don't should on yourself.

[00:30:07] Eric: And so we spent a lot of time saying, I should do this, I shouldn't do this. I should have done that. And like, we just ended up with kind of this pile of should, right. Kind of stacked up on us. And, and what we need to do is recognize that. The problems we're trying to solve are infinitely larger than we can comprehend.

[00:30:26] Eric: And that's, that's hard to say out loud, but when we start talking about things like conservation, when we're talking sort of talking about things like racism or these big, big concepts, they're bigger than we can comprehend infinitely larger. And so who are any one of us to make an impact on these large problems?

[00:30:44] Eric: Well, we're, we're literally nothing in comparison. And so what we need to do is recognize that we're not doing it alone. Right. My, my image that I took this one day of one time side story here I'm, I'm a, I'm [00:31:00] an amateur photographer and animal photographer geek, and I love it. My wife just got me this wonderful 500 millimeter lens and I love it.

[00:31:08] Eric: I love it. Right there is love is love, love, love. And so we were down in Puerto Penasco, Mexico, which is about four hours south of Phoenix. we're staying there on the beach and my kids are out there on the boogie boards and my kids love animals. And all of a sudden we start to see, it looked like the water was boiling, in front of them.

[00:31:30] Eric: I'm like, what is that? But it was little fish just jumping and that just kept happening. It's so crazy. And then we saw a fin and I was like, oh my gosh, that's a porpoise fitter, maybe a dolphin fan. I don't know what it is. Maybe it's a bottlenose. I don't know. But then we saw there's like a pointy fan and then a rounded fan.

[00:31:45] Eric: I'm like, what? That's that's, that's gotta be, that's a shark fin. And so like, I'm starting to get nervous, but like, you know, my kids are far enough away. And then I see both things at the same time and I'm like, oh my God, it's a whale shark. It's [00:32:00] 30, 30 foot long whale shark. And I was able to capture this image of my kids on sitting on top of their boogie boards, probably 10, 15 feet away from a 30 foot whale shark.

[00:32:13] Eric: What happened is we took this picture and we start sharing with our friends and they're like, wait a minute, tell me more about whale sharks. And we sort of started learning about their wills trucks, migratory patterns through the Gulf of California and all that. And so that sparked all of this conversation and it's like, these images can actually spark a lot and people start caring like, oh my gosh, did you realize that the population in sort of telling.

[00:32:37] Eric: And so when you think about the power of one image, just over a small group of people, but then you extrapolate that over a lot of us doing this work together, we don't have to do it all. We don't have to get every image. Perfect. We don't have to change the tide in one movement. Right. And so we start to think about [00:33:00] this.

[00:33:00] Eric: Don't think about, you know, am I doing enough because you are, if you're doing something you're doing enough, right? Because if we're all doing enough, then we'll be able to move this Boulder up the hill. And it's hard because we don't really have access to see all of us at once. But you got to trust. You gotta trust in your, your friends that trust in the community, because we're all doing this work for the same purpose and all of us together.

[00:33:25] Eric: Now that's something. Mic drop

[00:33:31] Jaymi: well said, well said, I'm curious if, because you are a photographer and so you understand the power of that visual storytelling and what that sparks inside of other people. When we are building images and trying to also convey empathy within images, how do we reflect. That empathy inside of our visual storytelling.

[00:33:55] Jaymi: So not only like how are we practicing it, but like, how do we show it and express it [00:34:00] within images? You mentioned earlier a specific image where this so clearly showed connection. Do you feel that there are strategies where we can literally express empathy in an image.

[00:34:12] Eric: Yeah. So this is something that's really interesting and unique to, well, not unique to humans, but very, very specifically about humans is that we are, we're the first thing we ever recognize is the face.

[00:34:24] Eric: when we're in. Before we can see colors or even clear shapes. We can see like the shadow of the eyes and the shape of the mouth. Like those are the things that we see first. And then we start to recognize it for relaying. Their eyes were all blurry and we see an adult leaning over us. Right.

[00:34:41] Eric: Whatever sounds. identifying faces is something that's very important. There's actually, I can't remember the specific part of the brain, but there's a specific organ in the brain that is responsible for recognizing faces, which is why we can see faces in clouds and see faces in, you know, car headlights.

[00:34:57] Eric: Right. We see faces everywhere. And so[00:35:00] when you want to. How have your audience connect to an image? A face is a great way to do it. The eyes are a great way to do it. In fact, humans, we will actually, we will project emotion into your images. We'll project emotions into animals that animals may not be capable may or may not be capable of experiencing, but we will feel it right.

[00:35:23] Eric: Especially with primates. Right. But we start to do that and. Well, you want to feel what is my, what is my audience who are going to feel when they experience my image? And this is one of the things I talk about radical curiosity, don't assume you've got it. Right, right. Take your images and listen to how people respond to them.

[00:35:43] Eric: And then if you want to adjust them or take additional images or right. So really listen to your audience. And this is what I've done, not on the photography side, but in, in, in my. My background here, it goes through the zoo, but also it goes through my bachelor's degree was in graphic design. [00:36:00] So I really understand about design elements.

[00:36:02] Eric: And so as I start my business here, where I'm speaking all over the world, I have to put together a PowerPoint presentations. And I don't know if you're like me, but I've sat through dozens and dozens and dozens of awful, awful PowerPoint presentations. What I decided is I need to communicate something through this visual imagery and whether it's photos or text graphics, whatever I have to communicate something.

[00:36:26] Eric: And I want my audience to experience some emotion. And so at certain points, I want them to experience wonder at some point and want them to experience joy. Sometimes I want them to feel off balance. All right. So I, I kind of think about the things I want them to feel. And then I. Tested it. So I started doing it and the best test for me.

[00:36:45] Eric: And this has worked for me, maybe not for photography, but is I would pay attention as people are looking at my images or my slides who was on their phone distracted. Right. And the more people that are distracted, like, oh, okay. Clearly that didn't hit them. [00:37:00] Right. Right. And so we want to pay attention.

[00:37:01] Eric: Like if you're showing your work, let's say you're in a gallery somewhere, don't look at the work, but watch the people watching it. Right. What, when does their mouth drop? When does their, what do their eyes roll? When do they look away or how long they look at certain images and you start to put together, right?

[00:37:18] Eric: So you, you're getting curious about their experience or you're actually getting empathy for your audience. And then through that, you can start to design and develop different or better or nuanced images to keep eliciting those emotions. That it's really difficult, but it's totally possible. And think a lot of times photographers, they get so wrapped up in their own personal joy of their image.

[00:37:43] Eric: Oh my God, that was, I got the best shot. Right. And there's so there's, so, which is a cool thing. Like I totally get it. Right. And you just wanna start showing you look at the great shot I got. Right. But knowing that perception does not equal reality. And if we're talking about other people's perception, don't tell them it's a great shot.

[00:37:59] Eric: [00:38:00] Show them the shot. And if they tell you, wow, that's a great show. That right. That's more important than you feeling it. And it's, it's, it's hard because we want to like, like, cause we take the reason we do photography. A lot of us is because we enjoy doing it. But if we start thinking about, if we're trying to communicate and build empathy for an audience for conservation, then we need to be empathic about the audience first.

[00:38:25] Jaymi: That is such an interesting point to bring up because all of us, everybody listening to this podcast, we all have experienced this image that we create. There were so emotionally attached to, and we show it and then we get a ho-hum response from it. Whereas another shop that we don't really care about or isn't that great, everybody loves it.

[00:38:41] Jaymi: And we're like, what is wrong with you people? And I know that I've definitely. Portfolios of images into editors and been very surprised at what they actually end up selecting for the article. And on the flip side, as a photo editor, this happened even just last year, I edited a story as the photo editor and the photographer said, I never [00:39:00] imagined that story being laid out like that.

[00:39:02] Jaymi: And here was this photographer living out the story as they photographed it and being surprised at how I chose. To pull images and place them to tell a story in a certain way. So that is such an amazing thing is to almost. Turn your, your, once you release an image out into the world, rather than continuing to focus on that image and to look at the responses, it's like really turn around and make it almost like a focus group experience to see what people are resonating with and to understand more about, especially inside of a project.

[00:39:33] Jaymi: So when you're working on beyond a still image, like single standalone images, but when you're working on a project in a story, It could be a really interesting experiment to release portions of the images and portions of the story and see what's resonating with people and how they're reacting, and then continue to move forward with your story evolution based on knowing that you're trying to drive people to, to a certain reaction and using what, what is resonating with them?

[00:39:58] Jaymi: Not dictate, [00:40:00] but to, to narrate the direction that you take.

[00:40:02] Eric: Yeah. That's beautiful. And one of the things that I've used and you can just Google it, but it's called the emotion wheel. And I don't know if you've heard of this, but it's, it's fabulous. And basically a couple of different psychologists have put it together, but actually it was originally designed for people on the autism spectrum to try to understand the emotions.

[00:40:21] Eric: And so they would still like, you know, what are you feeling? And it sort of like very. Happy sad, angry. And then each of those three branches out to like six other more nuanced feelings and each of those then branch out into two or three other nuanced feelings. And so what you end up with this really powerful spectrum of like 150 unique emotions.

[00:40:43] Eric: And so when you start to look at that, say, okay, what do I want my audience to feel? And you can get really nuanced about it and say, okay, how would I design a story or a project? Get them to feel that at this point. Right. And so for me, when I, when I do, when I do my work, I want, I want a story [00:41:00] arc. I want an emotional arc throughout it.

[00:41:02] Eric: And, and I want them to have highs and I want them to have lows and, and want them to have wonder, and I want to gasp and say, oh my gosh. And then I want them to leave saying, I never knew this. I want to learn more. Right. that's. How we can get really specific about the image because probably the best photo ever taken in my life was my son and my son has long curly hair and he dipped his head him.

[00:41:25] Eric: He was standing in the ocean, he dipped his head of the water and then he flung it back. And I did a really high frame rate and I was able to like capture the water from the ocean all the way up and behind it, but it was just this beautiful shot. The sun was shining through the water, as it was frozen on his face.

[00:41:42] Eric: It was beautiful. And I'm like, but this doesn't like, it doesn't tell any story, like, it's my favorite photo ever taken, but it's not going to take an audience anywhere. Right. It's oh, that's cool. Right, right. And so thinking about the specific nuance of, of, of emotion can really help us guide what we want to, it's not just happy and [00:42:00] sad, right.

[00:42:00] Eric: Or mad or whatever. There's a lot more nuance there.

[00:42:03] Jaymi: Ah, man, speaking of nuance, I'm curious. Your thoughts on how our unconscious biases and our own. Prejudices that we have that we're not even maybe aware that we have. How does that impact our ability to get into that empathic space and be a more empathetic person?

[00:42:24] Eric: Oh my gosh. Every, every single minute of it. Right? So, so our biases and a lot of people have a kind of a misunderstood. Feeling about bias bias is like people I ask people all the time, you know, what do you think bias is? And people say, oh, bias equals racism and sexism ages and all the isms. And that's not what bias is.

[00:42:43] Eric: Right. So bias is a psychology. That means a strong preconceived notion about someone or something based on information that we have that we perceive to have, or that we lack. And these pre assumptions are really they're mental shortcuts because there's too much information that our brain is [00:43:00] receiving at any one given moment.

[00:43:01] Eric: So we have to create shortcuts and that's what a bias is. And so, I mean, you think about a perfect example. You drive down the freeway on. On your day off and you're driving near your place of employment and you get off on the exit, you'd normally get off to get to your place of employment, but it's your day off.

[00:43:20] Eric: Oh, oops. Right. Because your brain just like, oh, here's what we're going. Right. And so that's a bias bias influenced that behavior. There are so many biases that we have that we just don't have words for. Like we there's there's height bias. A lot of us don't know this, that we have very strong height bias.

[00:43:34] Eric: And if you don't believe me, think about this last two and a half years where we've been kind of stuck on zoom and all these video conference. And there's many people in our world where we've never seen face to face, but only seen on the computer cause they live in this little box and then for whatever reason, we happen to meet them face.

[00:43:53] Eric: And the first thing we think of is, wow, you're shorter than I thought. Or, wow, you're tall, right? Because like in the, in [00:44:00] the rectangle of zoom, everyone's about the same height. And so, and so all of a sudden we realized, I didn't realize how much height meant to me until it's not there. And then the first time it's, they're like, oh, wow.

[00:44:11] Eric: But you're tall, you're short, whatever. So we have all these biases. And so. When you think about like a lot of photographers, have a bias toward a certain angle toward a certain lighting condition toward a certain animal toward a certain environment toward a certain situation. And why don't we very clear bias is not bad.

[00:44:28] Eric: Right? Biased stuff. It just because we have a bias or preference, it doesn't mean that it's a good thing or a bad thing. Right. We want to let go of those binary judgments. Right. But thinking about okay. Being aware of my bias. Right. Can I make different decisions? Being aware of my preferences? Can I make different decisions?

[00:44:44] Eric: Like you see certain photographers, they only photograph the eyes of women. Right. There's resuming in like getting the like really beautiful eyes or whatever. Like why not explore that the eyes of men, right. That it's a very clear idea, but the bias may prevent us from exploring this [00:45:00] entire world that might be there for them.

[00:45:02] Eric: And obviously that's a over generalized idea of, of some random person that isn't doesn't actually exist. But, but this is what we do, right. We tend towards these, these patterns and what might be out there outside of our patterns is a whole different world. And so it's, it's really cool. We start to explore that, especially when you see how that might impact the reaction of someone we've disagreed with forever.

[00:45:24] Eric: Like, oh, if I can tell the story differently.

[00:45:26] Jaymi: Wonderful. Okay. I'm going to ask you probably the most important question of the interview, which is, do you do consulting for conservation visual storytelling, projects, films, documentaries, and like, but for real, like, is this a thing where inside of a project we could come to you and say, can you coach.

[00:45:47] Jaymi: Through part of this, because this is something that never occurred to me until sitting down with you is how vital it could be. Especially if you're creating a conservation campaign and you're creating the visuals, recreating the [00:46:00] story, how important it could be to sit down with an expert like you and talk through what your goals are.

[00:46:05] Jaymi: Who your audience may be? How do you connect who, your quote unquote opponent might be? How you create conversation is not a thing that

[00:46:14] Eric: exists. I don't know. I, I there's nothing ever that I've done. Interestingly, I guess I have done. Visual storytelling consulting but not for this audience specifically.

[00:46:25] Eric: And so it's more along the lines of kind of audience identification and emotion identification and story arc, I guess it would apply. And it was something I'd be open to exploring because I can definitely see how exploring. Empathy in that way could be pretty powerful.

[00:46:44] Jaymi: Okay. So for anyone who's listening and they're like you up, I'm going to you, how do people get ahold of you to learn more about you and your work and your book?

[00:46:52] Eric: Yeah, so, so the best way is just check out my website and it's, this feels different.com um,[00:47:00] because they give you. When you're doing something and it's the same way. It's always been like, it just ma it's, it's boring. It's the same thing. But if you do something and the outcomes are unique and different it's because it felt different along the way.

[00:47:14] Eric: And so when I do my work, I intentionally designed for it to feel different, right. I, I designed for it to feel different. And so that's, that's the that's there. This feels different.com. Uh, But you can reach me on LinkedIn. You can reach me on Facebook. You reached me on Instagram. You know, Like I'm, I'm always open.

[00:47:30] Eric: So feel free to reach out. There's a contact me form and you'll pull to my email and we can talk or whatever. So, yeah, by all means, please reach out

[00:47:38] Jaymi: to me. Wonderful. Well, I'm going to make sure and link to everything in the show notes. So head to the show notes to get to those links are just like type that in right now in your browser, Eric, it has been sheer joy to talk with you.

[00:47:51] Jaymi: Such an amazing human being and this conversation, if I could have my way would go on for another three to four hours, it would include a couple of beers [00:48:00] and like diving into books and strategy because again, what you do and what your focus is is. It's a conservation visual storytelling. And we often forget, we get so wrapped up in the creative, visual creation side of our work and, and rightfully so.

[00:48:15] Jaymi: It's amazing to do that, but ultimately conservation photography and visual storytelling is about what you do with your imagery to make a difference. And everything that you talk about is essential to that conversation. So thank you so much for sharing all of your knowledge.

[00:48:30] Eric: My absolute pleasure. And one thing I'd like to leave your audience with is kind of leaning on the concept of perception of reality is if, if you know that people will behave or react based on their perceptions, and we know that perception is more important than reality.

[00:48:46] Eric: And so what that means is that, and the impact of that is that what you say or what you do matters less than what they hear or what they feel. And that is a concept that when you get it, it'll fundamentally change. [00:49:00] Can we say that again? Yes. So, so what you say or do matters less than what they hear or feel?

[00:49:07] Jaymi: I think that's going as a post-it note on my monitor where I can see that that is a really, really essential thing to think about. And thank you so much for having that, be the thought that we end on so that we can all kind of go ponder that for a bit. My pleasure.


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