When the hilarious illustrator, writer, and cancer survivor Emily McDowell launched her line back in 2013, it was a small operation running out of her bedroom. Just three years later, she now has a team in Las Vegas and Los Angeles producing her cards and merchandise. She has also finished co-writing a book, There Is No Good Card For This: What To So And Say When Life Is Scary, Awful, Or Unfair To People You Love, alongside Kelsey Crowe, empathy scholar and co-founder of the website Help Each Other Out.
As someone who has both survived the struggle of Hodgkin’s lymphoma and witnessed friends deal with death and illness, McDowell has a firsthand knowledge of how daunting it can be to provide apt words of comfort for people in pain. Making attempts to comfort a friend dealing with sickness or death can often feel like an exercise in futility, and for that reason, many of us become avoidant and fail to reach out. It was with this knowledge that she originally launched her line of Empathy Cards in 2015, giving language to situations that render us speechless.
The book, There Is No Good Card For This, combines the research and empathy expertise of Kelsey Crowe with the illustrations and humor of McDowell creating the ideal fusion of refreshing honesty and useful advice that can help us navigate friendship during similar situations.
We were lucky enough to pick Mcdowell’s brain about her vision for the book and Empathy Cards in general.
HelloGiggles: How did you first link up with Kelsey Crowe? Did you already know each other or did you seek her out specifically for the book?
Emily McDowell: When Empathy Cards came out and got that crazy reaction from the public, I started getting a push from publishers to pitch a book. Based on the feedback we got, I felt like the book that was really needed was one that would help people figure out what to say and what to do in these situations. But, I didn’t feel qualified to write that — I could write a book called “What I Felt” or “What I Think” and go into my personal opinions, but I’m not an empathy scholar; I’m not a researcher. I wanted this to be a “real” book, and not just my speculations. At the same time, one of my friends introduced me to Kelsey Crowe, and said, “You guys are totally on the same wavelength, Kelsey has this organization she started in San Francisco called Empathy Bootcamp.”
She introduced us, and we realized we had a similar vision when it came to what this book should be. Probably the best part is that we brought completely different complementary skills to the table. Because of all the research she’s done for her workshops, she was able to really tie parts of the book back to her wealth of knowledge. I was able to take her writing and translate it into the tone we wanted, then added the illustrations. So, it was totally this lucky coincidence that we had this mutual friend who connected us.
HG: One of the parts of the book I loved the most is the idea that empathy is something everyone can practice, not a trait some magically possess. Would you say your book is working to help people of all temperaments develop empathy skills?
EM: Absolutely. There’s no such thing as sucking at empathy. We all have the capacity for it. It’s just whether or not we choose to exercise it or not.
HG: When you first came out with the Empathy Cards, did you receive feedback from anyone saying you changed their perception of empathy?
EM: It was less about changing people’s perceptions of empathy, and more people saying, “Thank you for helping me understand that there are things I can say other than, ‘I’m praying for you.'” The feedback was largely, “Thank you for helping me start this conversation that would be overwhelming on my own.”