People‎ > ‎

Melissa Mills

Thank you for initiating the gathering the eclectic and dedicated set of empathy trainers! I feel fortunate to be among you. Here is my introduction.

1. What is your name, background and interest with training empathy?

My name is Melissa Mills. My background is an undergraduate degree in History, an M.B.A. in 1988 and a Master of Theological Studies in 2010. I spent 30 years working as an administrator in higher education, beginning as a technical secretary in the Math Department at Harvard, and 23-years at Duke University in executive management positions in academic administration.

 Most of my bosses were mathematicians or scientists. I retired from administration to start independent consulting in 2007, but first went to Divinity School. Then I had the opportunity to teach a freshmen seminar at Duke on “Ethics in Science” and was struck by some basic distortions in the way researchers are going about analysis in contemporary moral psychology and economics. Since then, I’ve been doing research across disciplines and teaching to a professional, adult audience through Osher Lifelong Learning Institute.

The way I describe what I do is to help people understand what it means to be human.

I use the research of others and bring it together under a framework that looks at humans as those whose most basic need is the need to feel like they “belong” to their group.

I’ve written a paper entitled “A Paradigm for Systems Thinking as a Real-Time Approach to Human Adaptation in the 21st Century” on this that will be presented at the 10th International Multi-conference on Society, Cybernetics and Informatics in July.

You can find a preprint of the paper at my website:

Also, at that link, you’ll find a paper I’ve written on an interpretation of space-time that allows us to reconcile General Relativity and Quantum Field Theory. That sounds a little wild, but it’s actually very simple. I got the idea before I had studied any physics. As the chair of the OLLI curriculum committee for Philosophy and Religion, I received a course proposal on Quantum Consciousness & Quantum Computing was hesitant to approve the spread of ideas that I thought were misleading. At that point, I was directed to read The Quantum Enigma and came to suspect that my understanding of space-time explained a lot of things that everyone else thought was a mystery. So I started studying physics to see. The paper explains the insights I gained.

The important thing for this Empathy Trainers group is how to connect the understanding of our marvelous universe to the way it empowers individuals, and individuals as parts of groups. I’m very thankful to read of all of the work, training, books, and materials that everyone is involved with!

One of my favorite books, which is more towards the big picture, is The Compassionate Brain: How Empathy Builds Intelligence, by Gerald Hüther.

2. What are your ideas for forming an International Empathy Trainers Association?

I am really over-extended, but I love networking and see that is how we are going to get out of the global mess we’ve gotten ourselves in. The focus of my efforts currently is in supporting a change in human understanding so that we stop thinking of each other as “other,” and realize we’re all in this together, with Environmental Sustainability our most pressing and immediate challenge.

Michael Tomasello’s book, A Natural History of Human Thinking, describes the kind of collective intelligence that emerges when we trust one another. Empathy builds trust. So does accountability and kindness!

I am also active with the community of folks who are trying to come up with a new story to guide our international economic activity. Naomi Klein wrote the book (and documentary by the same name) This Changes Everything to point to the force that is destroying our planet: the story we tell ourselves of economic success based on growth.

My paper on a paradigm for systems thinking uses the principles of positive psychology, and in particular, intrinsic rewards, as guidance for individual endeavors within communities that are guided by principles of sustainable cooperation as suggested by Martin Nowak and his colleagues in the book SuperCooperators: Altruism, Evolution and Why We Need Each Other to Succeed."

I’m currently reading Donella Meadows, Thinking in Systems, A Primer and treasure Peter Senge’s The Fifth Discipline as models and catalogues of the many, many ways we can connect with each other and the world to come up with sustainable solutions together.

Nowadays, we are able to use technology to create relationships internationally. Americans need this more than anyone. We are so isolated from the rest of the world that we have a completely distorted vision. We are set up for a mighty fall if we don’t get a sense and shift quickly. 

It is not the individual people, as much as the story we tell in the mainstream of what deserves honor in our global society - and that power comes from money, not integrity.

3. What sort of support do you need from IETA?

I just like the community and learning from everyone and developing the relationships.

3. How would you like to contribute of building the Association?

I’m not sure. To tie together what you are doing with other efforts? To use the materials you all are sharing in my work in Environmental Sustainability and a more cooperative and human way of undertaking our economic activity.

4. What questions do you have for others on the list?

5. Will you be able to attend some planning and design meetings?

I plan to attend today though I also have a meeting scheduled at 11 a.m. Pacific time. I’m not sure what I will do.

What dates and times are good for you?

6. Other Comments?

Thank you!

Edwin Rutsch