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Monday Motivation: David Coogan on the power of empathy

Posted at 7:23 PM, Dec 19, 2019
and last updated 2019-12-19 19:34:12-05

David Coogan stopped by to share why empathy is important in his work as a community advocate for criminal justice reform, and why he thinks it can help you in whatever work you do. Coogan is a professor at VCU and author of the book, “Writing Our Way Out: Memoirs from Jail.”  To find out more about the work Coogan does, including a podcast and audiobook, go to In the meantime take a listen to his Monday Motivation below.

My name is Dave Coogan. I'm an English professor at Virginia Commonwealth University and I'm the author and editor of Writing Our Way Out. Memoirs from Jail. And today, I want to share with you what I've learned over the last 14 years about trying to make a difference in working for social change.

I know it can seem impossible, but to me, the secret is figuring out how to translate ideas about what's troubling our communities into open-ended questions that you can answer in community with people who can share your passion for seeking change in themselves and in the world.

In the writing workshops that I've done at the jail and elsewhere in the community. I ask people to write stories about their lives and to share them in a spirit of trust and vulnerability, and my belief at that moment is that people already have the wisdom that they need to grow in community. But what they need is an opportunity to be able to share that and grow with others and develop knowledge about what happened in their lives. If we can all take the time to reason with each other about why we do the things we do in life, we can gain a better understanding of life. The problem is that we don't often take time.

Empathy is central to my work, and I want to encourage you to practice it to understand different perspectives and experiences, to make the change you want to see happen in your community.