Milwaukee’s empathy booth lends an ear to really hear you

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Ever find yourself worried about something that feels out of your reach? What was it like to have someone hear your concerns? Like really hear you.

Jules Maloney, who runs an empathy booth, says it’s certainly needed. You might have seen the empathy booth that Jules along with volunteers host at farmers markets, though this year she’s been out a little more sparingly due to the coronavirus.

Jules got the idea after reading and taking classes on non-violent communication.

“When my kids were younger I found something called nonviolent communication and as a parent, I was looking for a different way to raise my kids then how I had been raised,” says Jules. “Something that would build a little more connection, a little more understanding and a way for us to co-create our relationship. Nonviolent communication has significantly changed my life for the better. So the work of the empathy booth comes directly from that.”

Empathy is something everyone needs, Jules says. 

And she knows it might sound a little too kumbaya or flowery. She hears that.

Jules Maloney, operator of Empathy Booth | Photo courtesy: Jules Maloney

But she says that people have a real need to be heard and that often people aren’t raised to say what they’re feeling or what their needs are. A moment that was powerful to Jules was the time a teenager came to the booth and wanted to talk about a highly charged topic, sex. Though it really wasn’t about that.

“It was about her relationship with her mom, and wanting to be able to talk openly with her mom and not have her mom shut her down because her mom was afraid to talk about that topic,” says Jules. “ It was about a relationship and her longing for closeness and safety, to be able to share and explore what was happening in her world with her mother, who she loves.”

Jules Maloney

Though in these sessions no one is telling people what to do, think or feel. They’re just listening and taking guesses, if needed, to help assist people in getting their thoughts out. The booth doesn’t take on the role of a therapist.

“It’s important to understand the difference between active listening and compassionate connection that all of us have the ability to do,” says Jules.

Jules wants to eventually have the empathy booth travel on wheels and while she has volunteers that have been trained to hear and acknowledge anyone who stops by, she’s holding a few classes in December that teach non-violent communication methods. Hopefully it’ll lead to a few extra volunteers. Or if the need grows during Covid there could be virtual sessions.

Jules says that the empathy booth is accessible and can make all the difference for people so she’ll continue offering it.

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