From the editor: empathy may be word of the decade

Our editor reckons whoever picks the word of the year got it wrong when they chose ‘lockdown’ over ’empathy’


Apparently ‘lockdown’ is the word of 2020. There was surely a long list of candidates for that title this year. It’s an interesting choice. And, I think, the wrong one.

I may just be ill disposed towards the word lockdown at the moment, since I – and everyone else in England – am in one. It’s understandable to look for positives in this fairly miserable year. But perhaps the focus had gone too far that way. The increase in home working and flexible working and an increase in gender equality that benefits everyone all represent progress. And all were by products of lockdown. But I’d forgotten how dull lockdown life is. The monotony, the waking up every morning and thinking ‘here we go again’. It’s amazing how just being denied a trip to your favourite cafe can mess up your mood. 

The disconnect between the level of events is also a bit discombobulating. In my house we toasted Joe Biden’s victory last weekend with champagne and Schloer. And this week’s announcement of a vaccine breakthrough is unvarnished good news, even if it comes with a plea for a bit more patience yet.


But on the personal and domestic level November feels a slog. 

And it’s OK to admit that.

That’s why I’d choose a different word of the year. Of course Covid has to be in the mix, along with coronavirus, pandemic, furlough, homeworking (if you accept that’s one word), homeschool, Zoom and Joewicks (which isn’t one word but he deserves a mention).

But my word of the year is empathy.

We haven’t been in each other’s houses much physically this year. But courtesy of the combination of coronavirus, lockdown and Zoom we’ve been in each other’s houses virtually. And, crucially, we’ve peered into the homes of people we wouldn’t usually visit. From celebrities Zooming into TV shows to bosses and colleagues at work. Normally we visit friends and family’s homes, people we choose to mix with, people we’ve something in common with. Looking at strangers’ bookshelves, art work, gardens, pets and children actually broadens our horizons. Gives us an understanding of their lives, the demands on their time, the ways they want to spend their time away from work. We see people as more rounded humans.


That can only be a good thing. Particularly in the work context. Employers and line managers who understand their staff more fully will manage them better. Employees who see their bosses as fellow humans rather than just taskmasters will be better workers.

And there is a connection to the more macro events here. Empathy’s been pinpointed as a key part of Joe Biden’s character and appeal, crucial when so many Americans have known tragedy courtesy of Covid.

Perhaps empathy isn’t just the word of 2020. Perhaps it’ll be the word of the 2020s. If we are to build back better – whether that be in the home, at the workplace or driven by government – empathy has to be at the core of that effort. For it’s more than a word. There’s a whole glossary of new terms that will accompany the next normal (itself a phrase I only came across at an interesting webinar this week) including things like ‘anchor days’ and ‘the watercooler conundrum’. But what’s important about empathy is that it’s a force, a feeling, a driving quality. And that’s why it matters more than the word lockdown. Given the latest vaccine developments we can more confidently say that lockdowns are temporary, furlough will end, coronavirus will eventually be banished. But empathy is enduring. 


It so happens that and our sister sites at and are hosting a couple of workshops on empathy before the end of the month. You can sign up here.

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